Herjolfsnes hoods- questions of gender and practical use

As I re-read "Woven into the Earth" (Østergård) , I am reminded of a question of practicality in conjunction with the use of hoods that has ‘troubled’ me for some time.  To the point:  Did women wear these hoods and, if so, how did this function in practical terms if these women wore veils?

 Lirpipe hood D10600

Lirpipe hood D10600

The Greenland hoods seem to be closed-type hoods.  Most have a seam down the front, some (Type I) even have a gore center front.  There do not seem to be indications of any button holes on the hoods, and Østergård does not mention any hoods in her discussion of ‘buttons’ and ‘buttonholes and eyelets’ (Østergård, pp 102-103).  Østergård also does not specify the gender of the wearer/grave in her discussion of the individual hoods.  Pursuing this further, I have now looked at Nörlund’s “Buried Norsemen at Herjolfsnes” to see if he sheds any light on the question of gender and the hoods, and I have found the following:

  • Hood 65 (Nörlund, pp. 153-154):  Nörlund is inconclusive, first suggesting that the hood is “large and clumsy” with the conclusion that “the man who wore this hood must have had a remarkably large head.”  However, the skeletal remains in this grave are slight, possibly female, and Nörlund considers that either the hood is either “a very oldfashioned type […] or it must be supposed that the hood was worn by a woman whose hair necessitated the larger dimensions.”
  • Hood 79 (Nörlund, pp. 165-166):  Grave of a young woman 20-30 years old.

Most of the finds are not given a gender designation or are in a grave placement that doesn’t directly contribute to gender identification through use (wrapped around feet of corpse or found loose with other cloth remnants).

All of the hoods seem to be very narrow and close-fitting to the point of being hard to pull over the head.  Lilli Fransen has created patterns based on several of the hoods and states outright “The width of the neck on the hoods is made bigger as otherwise it would not be possible to pull the hood over the head.” (p. 39).  Nörlund states “There can hardly be any doubt, however, that the great majority of the Greenland hoods are male hoods, for the simple reason that they are so narrow in the neck that a woman with her abundant hair could not possibly have drawn such a headdress over her head.” (pp. 175-176).  While Nörlund mentions hair, he never mentions veils.

So I am left with a number of questions to ponder.

  • Why were these hoods so tightly fitted?  Were they indeed only male garments?  Were they worn all the time rather than being readily removed?
  • What did women wear on their heads?  If they wore veils, did they wear only veils?  Could they have worn a closely-fitted hood in lieu of veils?  Could they have worn a cap or coif instead of veils under a hood?
  • Why is there no evidence of open or buttoned hoods in Greenland as are so prevalent in manuscripts, church paintings and extant pieces from other regions in Europe? 
  • Are there aspects of the use of clothing and headgear that simply are not reflected through the burial practices and grave finds?

Is there something I’ve missed?  Please share if you have ideas, research or opinions on this subject!


  • Fransen, Lilli, Anna Nørgaard and Else Østergård.  Medieval Garments Reconstructed: Norse Clothing Patterns.  Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-87-7934-298-9.
  • Nörlund, Poul.  Buried Norsemen at Herjolfsnes.  Copenhagen, 1924.  Facsimile edition: Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2010.  ISBN: 978-87-635-2322-6.
  • Østergård, Else.  Woven into the Earth: textiles from Norse Greenland.  Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2004. ISBN: 87-7288-935-7.