I already know the expression green envy or a green hand, but this is the first time I heard of green fatigues:

Everyone stares at him briefly, at his congealed Wheatenea-and-lint carcass, but no one breaks stride; and who knows how long it will be before finally two policemen have to come in and hold their breath and scrape him out of the gloom and into the bosom of the law, from which he will emerge with a set of green fatigues, at least, and an honorable seat at night on the subway bench.

(from the Kandy-Kolored-Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, by Thomas K. Wolfe)

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    A lot of green fatigue pictures appear at google images, along with some irrelevancies. Dec 30, 2012 at 0:33
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    You can do an image search on Fidel Castro, too, and get a lot of good examples.
    – J.R.
    Dec 30, 2012 at 0:35
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    I think this is General Reference. If I Google "green fatigues" I even get pictures of them without leaving the Google homepage. Dec 30, 2012 at 3:16
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    I would say this since I answered the question, but I think that this is not GR in context. Knowing that "green fatigues" can refer to a type of clothing does not rule out the possibility that there is also a figurative meaning, and the writer quoted is known for packing in the figurativity and the symbolism.
    – zwol
    Dec 30, 2012 at 5:18
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    @Kris: Not necessarily; I think Zack is right. For example, do the same query on "green thumbs" – what will that tell you? (I agree that the question might have been better researched; something like, "Is the author just talking about clothes, or is there some other figurative reference, such as in the expression 'green hand'?" would be an improvement.) But, given the references to green hand and green envy already in the question, and the various other figurative uses of the word ‘green’ (e.g., green energy, ) I think this is a fair question, and I wouldn't classify it as general ref.
    – J.R.
    Dec 30, 2012 at 11:42

1 Answer 1


In this context, fatigues are a type of clothing. This word is most commonly used to refer to military uniforms that are everyday wear, as opposed to the "dress" uniform worn on formal occasions. It can also be used for everyday-wear uniforms issued by other institutions; in this passage, I believe the writer is implying that this unfortunate soul will be issued a prison jumpsuit by the city jail.

"Green fatigues" simply indicates the color of the uniform; unlike your "green envy" and "green hand" examples, the color is not metaphorical. (This is Tom Wolfe we are talking about here, your confusion is understandable.) Someone who was familiar with the time and setting might recognize green as the uniform color used by a particular local jail or perhaps a short-term mental institution.