TV's Fiercest Fashion

A TV show presents viking women as surprisingly modern—and gives them the clothes to prove it

by Leslie Van Buskirk
viking woman image
Dressed to kill: Vikings star Katheryn Winnick.
Photograph: Jonathan Hession/History

Fighting zombies isn’t the only way for women in TV shows to be ferocious, as the History channel demonstrates in its riveting new miniseries Vikings (debuting March 3 at 10 pm). When Lagertha (played by Katheryn Winnick) learns that her hunky blonde husband plans to sail off to plunder foreign lands—leaving her to stay home and take care of the kids—her reaction is swift, strong and terribly Dark Ages: Leaping into hand-to-hand combat, she simply clobbers him. Like her Viking sisters, Lagertha enjoys such liberties as the right to divorce and to own property. As it turns out, she’s also a “shieldmaiden,” a woman who has chosen to fight as a warrior. (Famous in Scandinavian folklore, these ladies are now believed by some to have actually existed.)

And unlike the male Vikings, who are kitted out for fighting, Lagertha pulls off all her stunts—from farming to battling marauders—wearing a floor-length dress that’s both historically inspired and 21st-century stylish. For that, credit costume designer Joan Bergin, who won three Emmys for her work on The Tudors. “If you’re watching a film and your first reaction to seeing characters from another period is, ‘Oh, how strange they look,’ then that interferes with your experience,” says Bergin. “So I try to go for a modern take that isn’t so distracting—nip in the waist here, tighten the sleeves there . . . What I do is about 70 percent historically accurate and 30 percent creative license.”

Indeed, the wardrobe she created for Vikings’ female characters has much in common with clothes by contemporary designers. Think Marc Jacobs’s floor-grazing sweater dresses and CĂ©line’s leather sweaters trimmed in wool and fur.

While researching Vikings, Bergin discovered that Ireland, where the series was filmed and where she lives, was a favored warrior stomping ground more than 1,000 years ago. “Once I realized that, it allowed me to use gorgeous Irish wool and knits to create the costumes,” she says. “I also had the luxury of a dye room, so we made colors like rose pinks and forest greens with the kind of natural dyes they used back then.

“I even dyed the leathers and the furs,” she adds. “The colors were amazing. I’d look at them and think, Galliano, eat your heart out!”

Next: The Viking Invasion

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First Published Mon, 2013-02-04 11:59

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