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I think I remember a line in A Clash of Kings or A Storm of Swords where some guy talked about why (at least, why he thought) the Night's Watch wore all black. I think it had to do with something about when they die? I can't quite remember, and it's bothering me. On the other hand, perhaps I fabricated this memory entirely or I'm mixing it up with something else.

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    I was wondering the exact same thing a few days ago while watching the latest episode of the series. Wearing black in an area that is all white from snow doesn't seem like a good camouflage tactic. – Zottek May 16 '12 at 6:46
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    Since black dyes were among the most expensive to manufacture in pre-industrial days, one wonders how the organization can afford to buy black clothing given how strapped they seem to be for resources of all kinds. – ohmi May 16 '12 at 19:13
  • Totally speculative, but perhaps because black collects more heat from the sun, and so it's be warmer by a smidge? – Paul Jun 17 '17 at 4:18
25

I think this has to do with the original purpose of the Night's Watch, which is to protect the realm from the mysterious others from beyond the wall, who come out at night. That's why it is called the Night's Watch, and at night wearing black is the perfect camouflage.

Also, there is an interesting contrast (or balance?) between the brothers of the Night's Watch, who wear black, and the knights of the Kingsguard, who wear white. Both take pretty much the same vows to hold no lands and father no children, but their purpose is quite different.

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    If it were for camouflage, one would think they'd wear light colored clothing, similar to arctic camouflage. Like the wildlings under Mance Rayder in the TV series. People wearing black in a place covered with snow doesn't make a lot of sense. – Royal Flush May 16 '12 at 14:57
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    @RoyalFlush The black makes them look so cool that they blend in with snow :) – Tacroy May 16 '12 at 19:03
  • Good point, although I wasn't exactly looking for the most logical answer, I was looking for what I believe some dude said in one of the books. Like I said though, it's definitely possible that I'm mixing something up from my memory. – Doug May 16 '12 at 22:48
  • +1 for the contrast between the Night's Watch/Kingsguard and their vows. I hadn't thought of that before. – Kyle S. Sep 9 '13 at 5:27
  • Querant is looking for a quote from one of the books. – SQB Jun 17 '17 at 17:16
25

“There are thousands,” someone called from behind Chett.

“We’ll die.” That was Maslyn’s voice, green with fear.

“Die,” screamed Mormont’s raven, flapping its black wings. “Die, die, die.”

“Many of us,” the Old Bear said. “Mayhaps even all of us. But as another Lord Commander said a thousand years ago, that is why they dress us in black. Remember your words, brothers. For we are the swords in the darkness, the watchers on the walls . . .”

Excerpt From: George R. R. Martin. “A Storm of Swords.” Bantam Dell, 2003-03-04. iBooks. This material may be protected by copyright.

Is that what you were thinking of?

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    I don't get it. Why would they dress them in black because they might die? All men must die. He he, a little pun there. – einpoklum Jul 16 '15 at 21:08
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    I suppose it's because black clothing is associated with mourning someone dead. – Aegon Jul 19 '16 at 15:52
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The Night's Watch is on the order of 8000 years old and was formed at a time that was toward the end of a Long Night. It's probably safe to assume that they chose black back then to have perfect camouflage in the darkness / near darkness, and when the Long Night ended it had become a tradition that they chose to preserve -- Agreed to possible detriment, or perhaps to instill fear in their enemies by way of reputation.

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    Wearing white is still better camouflage at night in a snowy environment. – Nick T Apr 24 '13 at 3:08
  • Querant is looking for a quote from one of the books. – SQB Jun 17 '17 at 17:17
  • And black is not the best color for the night anyway, since it would be darker than the surroundings most of the time, since trees, etc. are not actually black. – Florian Schaetz Jun 22 '17 at 12:40
3

I'd guess they wear black so as not to color-clash with any other force. All the other nobles' forces have other color combinations - in their banners and their uniforms; not all-black.

  • Querant is looking for a quote from one of the books. – SQB Jun 17 '17 at 17:17
3

As some other people brought up in response to suggestions that it was to camouflage them, my theory is the exact opposite, THAT IT IS MEANT TO STAND OUT AGAINST SNOW. In battles against white walkers, Night's Watch men are likely to be risen again if they die and the main force retreats, and it would be in the best interest of the brothers guarding the wall if fallen brothers stand out against the snow when they attack again as ghouls.

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    Black does not stands out against snow quite that much. You have rocks embedded in snow, or dark crevices etc. - and the black kind of meshes with that. For standing out against the snow, something like bright red would probably work better. IMO anyway. – einpoklum Mar 24 '16 at 21:25
  • Querant is looking for a quote from one of the books. – SQB Jun 17 '17 at 17:17
3

Black is the absence of Colors. Different houses in Westeros prefer different colors in their sigils, which become part of their identity. For example:

  • Baratheon: Black on gold
  • Stark : Grey on white
  • Lannister: Gold on red
  • Arryn: White on blue

Night Watch vowed not to take part in the wars of the Seven Kingdoms. They do not take any sides, hence the lack of colors.

  • Is there any information hidden in the way to list pairs of colours as "X on Y/X Y" (as opposed to just "X on Y" or just "X Y") that I am missing? – O. R. Mapper Jun 17 '17 at 16:12
  • Querant is looking for a quote from one of the books. – SQB Jun 17 '17 at 17:17

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