Link’s green tunic is an iconic game costume that stands the test of time. But when I first booted up The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on Game Boy Advance at a young age, I was fully convinced that Link spent the entirety of the game running around in his pajamas. In the game’s still-incredible opening segment, Link wakes up after receiving a telepathic plea for help from Princess Zelda. Soon after, Link ignores his uncle’s instructions to go back to sleep, doesn’t bother to change, and — once he sees that his uncle has been killed — barrels into a dungeon crawl through Hyrule Castle to save Princess Zelda. Does Link really save both the Light and Dark worlds in little more than a Hylian nightie? Is he an elite-trained child warrior wearing combat fatigues to bed? And did his uncle manage to pass on his mustache-growing skills before he died?
Because this was my first-ever encounter with Link, the pajama dilemma left me wondering if everyone else was wrong about his costume the whole time. There are a few key elements that support this theory. First, the pink accent on Link’s cap here gives it more of a nightcap feel, suggesting a soft velvet interior that would keep Link’s hair unbothered even in the toughest fights. A pom-pom at the end would make the cartoon nightcap look truly undeniable. In comparison with his uncle’s wardrobe, Link’s tunic also has a different cut from his soldier relative, with Uncle wearing a jacket and pants while Link has a pullover number secured with a belt.
On another front, most promotional art for the game shows that Link isn’t much of a pants fan. Just wearing his tunic, cap, and simple belt, Link should be admired for braving the elements with the limited protection he gets. While it’s bizarre to wear a belt to sleep, it’s equally strange to refuse to wear any pants in battle. The game’s instruction booklet describes the outfit as “a suit of green cloth which hardly protects you at all,” so Nintendo at least admitted to paltry starting protection here. Even when you seek out some better tunics, the Red Mail and Blue Mail don’t appear to come with legwear either. Link’s garb also differs from that of the Hyrule Castle soldiers, as they seem to have plated metal sets that actually provide some protection, and some cool horns to boot.
One unexpected element works against the pajama theory: the sleeve factor. When playing this game on the terribly lit Game Boy screen as a child, waiting to drive under street lights so I could actually see the game in my parents’ car, I always thought Link’s sprite had short sleeves. This would add more credibility to the argument that he’s underdressed for the dangers ahead, and gives the tunic more of a nightie look. With the benefit of time and a bright monitor, though, the sleeves were much more obvious. There is also other out-of-game art that counters the thought that Link never bothered to change out of his PJs.
A manga created for the game that ran in Nintendo Power suggests a different sleepwear design, with Link waking up in a red shirt with a popped collar. He also has an alternate nightshirt in this art for the GBA release. Sure, the simplest and most boring explanation is that the game developers didn’t find it necessary, or have the resources, to show Link choosing between wardrobe options in the intro. You could even argue that this choice makes the time you finally get an armor upgrade more impactful as a result. But we can take this deeper. What if Link is sleeping in his armor as a hidden aspect of Hylian combat training?
A real fighter is always ready for battle, and Link could very well be trained to be comfortable sleeping some nights in his armor. Link could have had a sixth sense for an incoming mission, and just ditched PJs that night. There could be knights from our history that have an example to show. Sure, actual medieval knights couldn’t shoot beams out of their swords at full health, but Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto has said in the past that medieval sword and sorcery tales were a key Zelda influence, so we can at least examine the “sword” side of that equation.
Oddly enough, however, it doesn’t seem like there were many notable warriors in history who were super eager to sleep in armor. Besides certain exceptions, like the raiding cultures of the Vikings, nighttime combat was less common in medieval warfare, so that level of preparedness often wasn’t necessary. One of the only mentions of a military group sleeping in armor was from the Order of Calatrava, a Catholic order of knights in a similar vein as the Knights Templar. This entry from The Catholic Encyclopedia says that many of the knights were former monks, and mentions that they practiced forms of discipline including sleeping in their armor.
While trying to get comfy in plates of metal and chain shirts would obviously suck, there was also cloth armor out there that was more comfortable and still protective. Plenty of warriors, from the ancient Greeks to the Mesoamericans and even into the Middle Ages, had terms for leather or layered cloth armors, sometimes modified with metal pieces or paired with a metal helmet. These were known as gambesons in the Middle Ages, which you may recall if you were a Light Armor fan in the Witcher games. They eventually fell out of use as firearms became more prevalent.
Regardless of whether Link really is the ultimate cozycore role model for saving the world in a nightshirt, thinking about it can really have an effect on how you play. Wouldn’t you feel much tenser if you had to scale Death Mountain, muck around Lake Hylia, and clear two worlds’ worth of dungeons in whatever you wear, or don’t wear, to sleep? This mindset also connects you a little to the inspiration for the game series. Miyamoto has famously said that the initial idea for The Legend of Zelda came from his exploration of the woods and caves outside Kyoto in his youth. With that context, picturing Link in his nightcap and slippers is a small way to bring a little more wonder and tension into a world you could be very familiar with.