In a recent post, I noted that there is a wide range of sex-specific folk garments in Northern and Eastern Europe, and many different approaches to what entitles a woman to wear them. Some are assumed upon puberty, others upon betrothal or marriage. Some have to be abandoned if a woman does not conceive and bear children; others are worn into old age.
The one garment worn in the Viking Age that is woman-specific is the apron dress. There is no clear idea to what extent the wearing of an apron dress was limited to females at certain stages in their sexual and reproductive lives. Many Viking reenactors dress their young daughters, even girls still in the toddler stage, in little apron dresses. Is this anywhere close to the actual historic practice? Were apron dresses worn by all females, or were they only donned at puberty? Upon marriage, perhaps? Did old women and widows cease to wear them?
Is there any way we can come up with an answer to any of those questions that is more than just speculation?
Maybe there is. In Cloth and Clothing in Anglo-Saxon England, Penelope Walton Rogers studied 6th century grave finds in southern England to make an attempt to answer this question with regard to a garment that allegedly shares ancestry with the apron dress, namely, the peplos, which is also a sleeveless overgarment (at least in Northern Europe) held up by paired brooches that is worn by females. Walton Rogers examined graves in which the skeleton had been sexed and ascertain for each sexed grave whether the paired brooches characteristic of the peplos were found. The paired brooches were primarily found in graves of females ranging from early teens to the 40s, suggesting that the peplos was taken up at puberty or thereabouts (perhaps specifically at menarche) and abandoned as the woman aged beyond her child-bearing years (i.e., menopause).
I know of no such study that has been done of Viking women's remains. It would be possible to duplicate Walton Rogers's methodology if a sizable body of excavated graves exists where the jewelry finds have been recorded and the skeletal remains have been sexed on some other basis than the jewelry itself. I should look at the Barshalder study and see what I can track down about the skeletal remains at Birka. It is possible that sex typing was done on some of the graves there; if so, it may be possible to apply Walton Rogers's approach to it and see what there is to be learned.