Anyone who’s ever seen a ninja movie from the 1980s will argue that ninjas wore head-to-toe black garments that looked like slightly billowy pajamas. But how accurate is Hollywood’s portrayal of ninjas? For example, did ninjas really wear that all-black outfit, and did they have any armor beneath it?
Some ninjas wore light armor beneath their clothes, but it was rare for them to wear full body armor like the samurai. There were exceptions, however. A few ninjas were also samurai, and other ninjas’ tasks and missions sent them into situations where wearing armor would help them blend in better.
This article will discuss precisely what kinds of outfits ninjas wore and the color of those outfits to answer once and for all whether or not they honestly wore all black. It will also explore ninjutsu, the ninja’s preferred fighting style when forced to engage directly with their enemies.
Ninjas’ Armor: An Overview
There is a serious lack of scholarly evidence supporting the idea that ninjas wore armor. However, enough pieces of light armor remain in museums today to suggest that at least some ninjas armored themselves. 
The most likely type of armor ninjas used is a lightweight chain armor known as kusari. They may also have used small plate armor called karuta. If so, they probably wore this armor either under their clothes, directly against their skin, or between two thin layers of clothes.
After all, a ninja depended on stealth and disguise, so walking around clad in visible armor would quickly give them away as something other than what they were pretending to be. Finally, some scholars believe that ninjas also wore arm guards and shin guards and that they may have had metal in their hoods (cowls) to help protect their skulls.
Ninjas’ Gear: An Overview
In truth, a ninja’s gear was more important to him than armor. 
If they were in open battle or operating in stealth mode, they might have worn a short sword of some kind on their backs. However, those ninjas who were trying to blend in by dressing as commoners, merchants, monks, or something else had to be more discreet about where they kept their weapons.
For that reason, most of them carried small, easily concealed weapons such as shuriken or tiny daggers. Other popular ninja weapons included:
- Palm blades
- Tiger claws
- Shuko (similar to brass knuckles)
- Throwing spikes
- Caltrops (sharp tacks left on the ground for enemies to step on)
- Rope weapons (for strangling or tangling up an opponent’s limbs)
Ninjas also carried various non-weapon-related gear, such as ropes, grappling hooks, rope ladders, blowguns, tubes that allowed them to breathe underwater, smoke bombs, and a selection of herbs and bandages.
They may have also used poison on their weapons, but scholars are divided on that point. 
What Did Ninjas Wear?
The black, pajama-like outfit typically associated with ninjas is called the shinobi shōzoku; however, there’s little evidence to suggest that’s what they actually wore.
Ninjas wore a variety of outfits. They were spies, so they dressed in whatever helped them blend in most efficiently with the people around them to avoid notice. Ninjas working at night occasionally wore dark-colored, head-to-toe outfits like the shinobi shōzoku, though they weren’t always black.
Generally speaking, their clothing choices in battle weren’t much different from that of the samurai, though they didn’t favor the same loose, flowing style. When their garments were loose, they’d tuck them in or belt them down to keep them from getting in the way of their movement and actions.
Also like samurai, some ninjas wore tenugui, a Japanese hand towel that ninjas often used as headbands, head wraps, belts, face coverings, and more.  They sometimes even used it to help them climb.
On their feet, ninjas wore footwear called tabi. Tabi have the distinctive split-toe design for which ninjas are famous. Today, tabi are made of less durable materials and used as socks, but when ninjas were wearing them, they were likely made of leather and darkly colored.
These shoes were lightweight and allowed them to move quickly and quietly.
Did Ninjas Wear Black or Blue?
Ninjas often wore blue clothes, but they sometimes wore black, as well. Despite popular misconceptions, however, there is no standard color for ninjas. Instead, ninjas would wear whatever helped them fit more smoothly into a crowd.
However, clothes worn at night were usually indigo or some other shade of dark blue. This color allowed them to blend in more with the natural color of the city after dark. Additionally, indigo dyes may have been less expensive than black.
So, where did this idea that ninjas always wore head-to-toe black come from?
Most scholars agree it came from the theater. Japanese stagehands and puppeteers dressed entirely in black so that they could fade into the background when moving things around on stage or operating puppets. It made them effectively invisible.
Because ninjas were stealthy and nigh-invisible themselves, it made sense that people started depicting ninjas in plays, movies, and other forms of media in black garb. Some scholars maintain that ninjas may have worn black clothes with splashes of red (so that enemies couldn’t distinguish any true bloodstains from the red splashes) when appropriate.
What Fighting Style Did Ninjas Have?
Ninjas created their own unique fighting style – ninjutsu – as a way of incorporating all their skills (stealth, speed, agility, etc.) into one cohesive martial art. They were also proficient in other martial arts, including boxing, wrestling, naginata-do, kyudo, and kendo.
While ninjas were well-trained and disciplined, brute force wasn’t their main strength. Instead, they used their speed and the element of surprise to aid them in battle. When fighting in open war, ninjas also preferred guerilla warfare techniques instead of the more direct, on-horseback approach favored by the samurai.
In close combat situations, though, they relied on the skills learned in ninjutsu training. This training focused on both mental and physical aspects of training, and it wasn’t all about fighting either. Ninjas also learned to run, leap, and, most importantly, use their brains.
While some ninjas may have worn armor, it wasn’t the norm. Instead, most wore clothing that helped them blend with their surroundings in any situation.