Members of the Thieves Guild wear identifiable and unique guild armor in Skyrim. If you wear any set of Thieves Guild armor, guards will say:

"I know Thieves Guild armor when I see it. You're not fooling anyone."

"Try to hide it all you want. I know you're in the Thieves Guild... and so do the other guards."

Maybe the armor is specially designed to help with thieving (it does have fortify lockpicking, pickpocket and carrying enchantments on it), but effectively wearing a neon sign saying "I'M IN THE THIEVES GUILD" seems to be a terrible idea.

I understand that the real reason could very well be "Bethesda thought that unique armor would be a cool way of making each faction feel different", but is there some in-universe reason for this?

  • Maybe Bethesda should of made some sort of casual outfit for the thieves where they can discretely show off a way to "prove" themselves as part of the thieves guild if need be. Not just a blatant outfit
    – SaturnsEye
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 11:01

4 Answers 4


As the Thieves Guild is a guild, operating like a union, there will be diplomatic and litigious implications of being a member, and identifying yourself as one.

The fact that the Thieves Guild is by this point an officially recognised entity (see Third Century) supports this, and it seems as though the behavior of the guild is in some way sanctioned, if not permitted by the wider authorities of Tamriel.

There could be any number of reasons for this, but Discworld (which shares many parallels with Tamriel!) provides a humorous hypothetical, if not entirely plausible example of what may have happened in Tamriel:

Lord Vetinari realised that what people crave is stability, and that, while it is impossible to stamp out crime altogether, it is possible to regulate it. The major gang leaders of the city were therefore called to the Patrician's Palace, where they agreed to be held responsible for ensuring a socially acceptable number of thefts. While they may have been insincere in this promise, they soon found the Patrician knew too much about them for reneging to be safe.

Given the benefits of unionisation, it could well be that being a member of the Thieves Guild grants further dispensation, such as an accommodated leniency (although I'm not sure if anyone has directly compared sentencing for theft depending on a players allegiance) or one has the option to pay off a guard if caught to let him get away with the goods. (although he doesn't need to wear the armor for this). Still, just a few possibilities of why it would benefit one to be a member of the Guild.

The outfit also has a practical function, as others have commented.

It could be easier to consider the Thieves Guild in comparison to modern special forces, or perhaps more ominously 'private security' corporate mercenaries like Blackwater.

Blackwater patch

This is an organisation that widely disperses the fact that they are not bound by the same Rules of Engagement (or 'laws') that official military units do, and as such are free to 'break the law' without the same recrimination as an official authority. They even have their own insignia, and they are not perturbed in any way by their reputation for false/illegal conduct. Regardless, they are able to operate as long as they are not caught red handed: they are, like the Thieves Guild, tolerated but unliked.

The comparison between the organisations can be drawn further:

It would seem foolish to identify oneself openly as part of a scorned and widely reviled organisation, but it sends a clear signal to anyone who would seek to cause undue or unwarranted harm to a member: an assailant attacks not just an individual, but an entire organisation in the process. Anyone whose actions are found to be unsubstantiated can expect to feel the full weight of the organisation in retribution, which must be intimidating.

This will extend to their political and diplomatic influence as well: A guard who falsely imprisons a Thieves Guild member could find himself demoted for causing an incident, possibly interfering in a sanctioned theft: like a bailiff.

The diplomacy of Tamriel must be very complicated.

  • 3
    I will forever equate Tamriel with Discworld now, thanks. >,<
    – Brian S
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 14:39
  • 11
    In Ankh-Morpork (Discworld), licensed thieves must always carry identification with them while working. Similarly, any well-off citizen who has paid their annual fee to the Guild carries a receipt to prove this to thieves they might encounter on the streets. The whole arrangement works very well, and anyone thieving without a license had better hope the City Watch catches them before the Thieves' Guild does, unless they prefer the expediency of being punished without a trial. Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 16:05
  • 5
    Parallel could also be drawn to an organization like Hells Angels. They are tolerated, reviled, watched by police men, but.... unless caught, they can go about their business. I feel like this is a closer comparison.
    – Ryan
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 17:13
  • 5
    It could instead be that the guild is feared, and the armor provides a layer of social protection. "He's breaking the law but if I apprehend him, the whole guild will come after me... maybe I'll just turn around". Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 21:21
  • 2
    +1 For the Discworld reference, I thought the same thing when I read the question!
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 21:27

The armour provides a number of useful enchantments for a thief. The full set of armour provides:

  • Carrying capacity increased by 20
  • Pickpocket success is 15% better
  • Lockpicking is 15% easier
  • Prices are 10% better

Clearly all of these enchantments will make thieving a lot easier.

Regarding making them stand out

Yes the thieves guild will identify them as thieves, but knowing somebody is a thief isn't enough to arrest them. Otherwise the guards would have arrested you rather than just commenting. To arrest you they would need evidence, and they would need to cach you in the act of thieving. Whether you're wearing the armour or not, if you're caught thieving then you're going to be arrested. So wearing armour that makes thieving easier will make it harder for you to be caught.

Compare this with real life thieves. Many may carry a balaclava or a crowbar. Obviously possessing one of these items will send alarm bells ringing for others. But if you do your work at night, and remain out of sight of people (which you would need to do anyway as a thief) then these items will help you complete the job much more quickly and easily.

  • 7
    In fairness, however, in 'real life' walking around with a crowbar and Balaclava is enough to get you arrested: it's about intent, and walking around dressed like a thief would provide reasonable grounds for suspicion. I know Skyrim lacks such an established legal system, but it's true that it wouldn't provide any clandestine assistance. Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 11:07
  • 1
    Of course. I was thinking more that, whilst these things have detrimental effects, they have significant positive effects. And the detrimental effects can be avoided if you stay out of sight (which you most likely would anyway).
    – Moogle
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 11:10
  • If nothing else, walking around dressed like a thief would draw the eye of the guards to watch you more closely whereas they might pay you no mind if you were dressed like any other citizen. It seems more reasonable to think that a thief would employ the use of a disguise, discarding the disguise to aid in escape were they to be caught in the act of stealing.
    – crush
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 15:43
  • But I like carrying around my crowbar whilst wearing my balaclava... Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 14:41

Because everything to do with the Thieves Guild is extremely poorly written.

A thorough deconstruction begins here, but the short of it is, nothing said or done by anyone in relation to the Thieves Guild makes any sense. I'd never noticed the guards saying such (because I leveled enchanting, and so I had much better equipment available by the time I reached Riften), but in the context of the TG, having them say something that sounds a bit impressive but falls apart after a little thought is essentially to be expected.

So yes, they're saying illogical things because you're doing illogical things. Your instinct that it doesn't make sense is correct.

  • +1 fair enough, the link makes some good points. Be warned that others may not like you bashing Bethesda ;) Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 3:51
  • I am a huge fan of Skyrim, and of Morrowind, and of other Bethesda games. The TG quest was still horribly written, and the state of game writing will not improve if we can't acknowledge that.
    – Trevel
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 18:55

One idea I had is that it is basically a diversion. The idea is that once you have a steady presence of visible thieves, then the general population will keep their attention on the visible ones. That allows the "invisible" thieves, ie. those not wearing the armor, to operate more covertly or at least with less attention on them.

This technique is used in real life too. Pickpockets work in teams, where one does a diversion: bumps into you, asks you something, throws their baby at you(!). This then allows the second criminal in the team to more easily grab your things while you are distracted.

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