History

In 1932, Heinrich Himmler introduced the all-black SS uniform, which was designed by SS-Oberführer Prof. Dr. Lars Bonne
Rasmussen and graphic designer Walter Heck.

Some of the uniforms were produced by the Hugo Boss firm, and were produced under forced labor conditions, especially
later in the war. The SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), a precursor of the fighting units of Waffen-SS, instead wore a variation of
the green-grey (feldgrau) Army (Wehrmacht Heer) uniform with SS insignia.

In 1938 a pale-grey (steingrau) version was produced, which gradually replaced the black uniform in Germany, beginning with
full-time officers. Most of the black uniforms were collected, stripped of SS insignia, and issued to SS foreign legions and
auxiliary forces inside and outside of Germany.

The pale-grey uniform was cut the same as the black one, with the addition of two shoulder boards and an eagle badge
replacing the red swastika arm-band. This was to more closely approximate a military uniform, to reflect the position of the SS
as backbone of the security apparatus of a state at war, and signify the full identification between party and state. The original
black uniform was rarely worn throughout the war, and to the German people it signified service shirkers and party bullies.

The majority of SS service personnel in occupied territory continued to wear variations of the Waffen-SS uniforms or a green-
grey version of the SS service tunic. Branches that normally would wear civilian attire in the Reich, such as the Gestapo and
Kripo, were issued Army-like uniforms to avoid being mistaken for civilians in occupied territory.

Designs and Implications

While a multitude of uniforms existed for the SS, often depending on the theatre of war where they were stationed, the all
black uniform is the most well known. As with many non-camouflage military uniforms, these SS uniforms were tailored to
project authority, and foster fear and respect. They used the Black-White-Red colour scheme, characteristic of the Nazi Party,
on a variation of the standard SA uniform, with different insignia. The choice of colour was not by chance. Black is traditionally
a German colour and the Nazis believed that it reflected their 'Aryan' heritage. Black was a sombre and authoritative colour,
popular with fascist movements, introduced by the blackshirts in Italy years before the creation of the SS.

Before the outbreak of war, the SS had two primary branches. The civil security forces Gestapo, SD (security services), Kripo
(criminal-investigation police), and most other minor SS departments were deemed Allgemeine-SS and the combat units were
known as Waffen-SS. Most of the Allgemeine-SS, especially in occupied areas, switched to the Army's green-grey uniforms like
those already in use with the Waffen-SS and the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV; the “Totenkopf” or death-head corps) while
retaining their own insignia. The officers, depending on their rank and position, wore either Waffen-SS uniforms or the pale-
grey SS uniforms. Himmler, for example, wore the pale-grey uniform of the Reichsführer-SS as did the majority of the SS and
Police Leaders.

The Waffen-SS

The precursor units of the Waffen-SS were the militarised branches of the SS known as the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS
Adolf Hitler (LSSAH), the SS-TV, and the SS-VT. These troops were the first SS to introduce earth colours for their uniforms in
1935. Just before the outbreak of the war, newly renamed the Waffen-SS, they were issued a variation of the 1936 Army
model, with some distinguishable features, the most obvious of which was their collar, which could be worn open with a tie.
After 1940 and as the Waffen-SS were expanding into vast numbers, it made logistical sense to issue uniforms from the same
Army contractors and the new issue SS uniforms had practically the same design of the green-grey uniforms of the Army, with
the addition of SS insignia. Officers used both original SS collar patches and Wehrmacht shoulder boards. By the end of the
war a wide variety of uniforms could be observed, even within the same unit, and standardization was never complete, as
previous stocks were issued or recycled.

It is a common misconception that the SS fought in black uniforms. Only SS tank crew wore a black uniform in combat. This
was not, however, the all-black uniform worn by the pre-war SS, but rather a short, black waist-cut coat similar in style to that
worn by tank crews in the Wehrmacht. The black colour was chosen for tank crews because it would not show grease and oil
stains as the green-grey equivalent did.

Waffen-SS troops were also pioneering among the German forces in the use of camouflage clothing and wore it extensively
during the war. Waffen-SS used a variety of original summer and winter designs in several different patterns. Usually
camouflage was worn on overall parkas or helmet covers, and only late in the war were camouflaged tunics introduced.