For authenticity purposes it is important that kit, costume, weaponry and character be consistent for the status a member wishes to portray.
Early medieval society was much more complicated and hierarchical than modern Britain. People were expected to know their place, defer to their betters and act responsibly for their inferiors. Social mobility was possible, but generally quite modest, rising generation by generation rather than the ‘rags to riches’ of the American dream.
For convenience the Vikings Society's kit guides distinguish four main status-groups. This is a gross over-simplification of very structured societies, but it makes life easier.
- Slaves and semi-free/tied peasantry (very low status);
- Free men, tenant farmers, craftsmen (lower status);
- Landowners, household warriors, minor aristocracy/gentry, wealthy traders (higher status);
- Jarls, ealdormen, bishops, kings and their families (very high status).
This doesn’t leave any room for a ‘middle class’, which may seem a bit odd as many people want their character to be middle class (understandable – it’s the way we think today). We would like to sharpen the distinction between ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ status, so the difference between the requirements for ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ status kit is clear. We’ve deliberately said “higher” and “lower” rather than “high” and “low” to allow room for debate, flexibility etc, as this approach simplifies a complicated society.
It is very important that all kit and costume is consistent with the character portrayed. For higher status, this means displaying wealth through rich colours, embroidery, decoration, use of silver and gold, owning weapons and armour. For lower status, this means practicality and care, simplicity and serviceability, with items well-looked after and repaired.
This does mean that someone wanting to fight with a sword and chainmail armour should have or aspire to higher status kit. Simply having the weapons is not enough!