Ridicule is a common method of social dismissal. The Sturmabteilung (SA) were a German fascist militia in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Their most basic uniform was described as a yellow brown Kaiserreich desert uniform. Unlike the Schutzstaffel the SA did not benefit from a fashion designed uniform.

Real SA uniform, src https://www.dhm.de/lemo/bestand/objekt/uniform-der-sa-um-1930.html

Were the SA subject to ridicule in Germany?
In terms of the relevant fashion cultures of Germany, did they look ridiculous?

  • Into the early 1930s the SA were faced by social democrat and communist organised militia who lacked uniform. Citing their growing power in the early 1930s for 20s fashion isn’t a complete argument. We view them through Riefenstahls lens in what amounted to a tribute to the SA after they had been very publicly neutered. I’m asking for an “as it was” reading, not an after Leni reading. Jan 7, 2021 at 1:27
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    The SA were definitely subject to abuse and ridicule by communists and leftists, focusing on various aspects which probably included their uniform (there are certainly caricatures of German uniforms of the period by the likes of George Grosz, although some uniforms were even more ridiculous, such as the WW1-era cavalry's legendarily tight trousers). I'll see if I can find something relating to the SA.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 7, 2021 at 10:39
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    Apart from again a very first comment being a factually wrong answer-in-comment (why don't we delete them, again, enlighten me please, tired of denied flags while those are clearly against policy…?); @SamuelRussell: "Lacked uniform"? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichsbanner_Schwarz-Rot-Gold Please clarify how you'd like to measure this. 'Uniforms' were just a big thing then in general, opponents always tending to 'not like' the others, and fashion being a taste thing. I can easily cite subjective judgements pro&contra "nice boots they had and the puffy trousers were tres chic". Jan 7, 2021 at 15:15
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    Sturmabteilung please. Jan 7, 2021 at 17:47
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    SA were not fascist militia, there are significant ideological differences. Uniforms were German colonial uniforms of the era, thus the color. SA bought them because they were cheap surplus. Anyone ridiculing them would in fact ridicule German Army, so only hardcore leftist would do so .
    – rs.29
    Jan 7, 2021 at 21:48

2 Answers 2


It is currently still unclear to which extent and from what angle "any ridicule" might have come. Of course there was some ridicule towards those uniformed men, and of course that ridicule mainly came from political opponents.

Uniforms of all kinds were still in much respect and fashion in Germany. Be it old Kaisers Rock (Prussian uniform, including equivalents from other states), police, firefighters, then later communist fighter brigades or mainly Social-Democrat fighting brigades.

Unless that angle is better focused and explained, this answer will be restricted to address a common misconception about 'the uniform' as apparently informing the nature of the question — and most certainly a lot of comments.

The SA was called at a time Braunhemden (brown shirts).

That is significant, as the history of the organisation has to be looked at in the different phases.

First phase: 'a Jew' Emile Maurice creates the sports division of the party, which attracts ruffians, mostly from the Kaiser's military and later Freikorps. They wear their old uniforms, pretty much rag-tag style. When they try to appear 'uniform' in public the colour grey dominates for windbreakers and the only real identification signifier is the armband. The name Sturmabteilung was only chosen in 1921. And up to that point, no SA man wore brown shirts for party affiliation (ie: in private they might still have liked to don one).

enter image description here enter image description here

An independent Freikorps Roßbach comes into view. He is a right-wing extremist, has his own Freikorps, and two coincidences on his side. He organises a holiday bike ride for his comrades to East Prussia in 1921, now under a more inoccuous name ("Verein für Wanderfahrten"). To appear in uniform style, he choses for his outfit a small surplus under his control from decommissioned colonial stocks. Out of those the intended but never delivered newly designed light beige-brown shirts for the East-Africa Schutztruppe under Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck fitted his bill. These were and are nicknamed Lettowhemden ('Lettow's shirts') after the officer whose troops were the intended receivers of the uniforms including the shirts. Those were never made again in that exact style, stocks ran out fast but the impression of uniform earth-like colours for earth and ground (Blut & Boden) loving right-wingers catches on. Mainly since grey stood for the old field army, red the communists and firm black by then in use by Italian fascists.

The name Lettowhemd is still retained, informally, and giving rise to much of the misconceptions on display here. But the colour, cut, material etc differ substantially from the later 'Hitlerhemd' (as so called by Roßbach). The later and latter is much darker brown, less like a fit for an African bush soldier, more like one for an Alpine huntsman.

During the prohibition of the NSDAP phase, such outfits were not opportune in general, and until then the spread from Bavaria into North Germany wasn't as big as later.

The basic 'uniform' style for the SA was then sought to be standardised in 1926 through the party, while wearing such a brown shirt was already made compulsory since 1925. They ordered large contingents of the same basic style for the masses, not least for brand recognition and corporate identity reasons but also to make that more affordable for the lower strata of society filling their ranks.

That went in parallel with really well-off members getting their shirts tailor-made while right up into the 1930s really poor members still making their own shirts for simple price reasons. While buying in bulk the centralised Sportversand made quite an income from its margins. This variation in styles is seen in trousers as well, and it becomes evident when looking at authentic pictures from that time.

This picture showing the important members Heines and Röhm in 1933 shows some variations:

enter image description here

It shows Heines, the SA hothead who in his own heyday introduced a basic brown shirt, first as a 'real uniform' into the youth organisation Schilljugend, after Roßbach's idea and following partly the style of the previous colonial gear.

So, for well into the 1930s, it is hardly 'the uniform' of the SA to speak of. Official regulations standardising every last detail of that later uniforms that we might associate readily with such advertising masterminds like the nazis can not be used as a template to look for validation during the earlier phases. The most basic derision towards the SA's outward appearance was more to the lack of uniform (and the truncheon-swinging loudmouth behaviour of course) because they were right-wing but often poor, an unnatural combination.


Freikorps Roßbach, 1919-1923
Sturmabteilung (SA), 1921-1923/1925-1945
— For the Roßbach/Lettowhemd angle: not WP: SA, but — Gerhard Rossbach: "Mein Weg durch die Zeit. Erinnerungen und Bekenntnisse", 1950. (Chapter: "Meine Beziehung zu den Braunhemden" describing the original Africa-destined shirt he bought up in detail, quoted in a short but easier to access manner here.)
— Freiherr von Eelking: "Die Uniformen der Braunhemden", Zentralverlag der NSDAP Franz Eher Nachf: München, 1934. (archive.org; bad barely readble scan but correctly shows some developments roughly correct for the timeline in pictures, of course much oversimplified as well and never mentioning then already disgraced persons…)
— Daniel Siemens: "Sturmabteilung. Die Geschichte der SA", Siedler: Berlin, 2019.

Since the fashion topic 'uniform' was of course generally rejected wholesale by pacifist or 'strictly civilian' circles after the Great War, it retained much appeal in German everyday life. In fact, I'd argue that when the SA finally gained some more ground during the later 1920s, while they adopted more stringent uniform-like appearances, they were more of a trendsetter in that regard for the opposing sides, who in part also wanted to appear 'en bloc' on the streets (and according to the SA source Eelking did so before the SA arrived at the brown basics).

  • Which source makes this statement: 'light brown shirts for the East-Africa Schutztruppe'? After 6 years of blockade and war it is surprising that the material would not have be reused. Jan 8, 2021 at 13:37
  • @MarkJohnson A valid concern. It's directly from Rossbach. Not all stocks were completely used up, the military holding on to theirs as fast & tight as it gets, and when Roßbach came along they did let that one enter general circulation (re-use), plus it was a relatively small stock (compared to Prussian army uniforms). Jan 8, 2021 at 14:22
  • The statement made in Sturmabteilung - Wikipedia, I believe, needs replacement. This quote would be a good candidate (and more plausible), but a source would be needed. Did it state the initial amount? Jan 8, 2021 at 14:39
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    I have not yet commented but thank you. For the UK influenced "honours" system of history, this is the summary of the honours thesis answer: the introduction to the "lower" PhD essay. I want to congratulate this answer separate to the upvoting and acceptance. THIS IS WHAT HIST.SE OUGHT TO ASPIRE. except with my ignorance of question. regarding answers this is to what we should aspire. Mar 1, 2021 at 9:50
  • @SamuelRussell Based on discussions in history.meta.stackexchange, the writing style of this author has been criticized in the past, which this answer also contains some aspects of. Mar 1, 2021 at 11:44

This answer deals solely with the topic from where the original brown shirts came from.

The original supplier of the brown shirts to the Sturmabteilung (SA) was from the „Sportversand Schill“, which was part of the Schilljugend (Schill Youth) founded in 1923 by Gerhard Roßbach.

In 1921, Gerhard Roßbach bought up the remaining stock of the East African Lettow shirts, which were brown and was used as a uniform clothing for the cyclists during a bike ride to East Prussia. They were later used for the Salzburg Schill Youth in 1924. They were later taken over for the German Schill Youth by Edmund Heines, who in 1925 became responsible for all NSDAP youth groups.

The main source for these statements are convered by the statements made in Gerhard Roßbach 1950 book: My Way Across The Era: Recollections And Confessions, quoted below.

The (English only) Wikipedia articles use Toland, John (1976). Adolf Hitler. New York: Doubleday & Company. ISBN 0-385-03724-4 (page 220) as it source. I haven't found the original english text of the source, but based on the german edition of 1977 it is clear that only part of their statement is based on that source.

Adolf Hitler / JOHN TOLAND - Page 300, 294 of PDF
Die offizielle Uniform der SA war das Braunhemd mit braunem Binder. Die Wahl dieser Farbe war Zufall; eine grosse Lieferung von Hemden, die ursprünglich für die deutschen Kolonialtruppen in Ostafrika bestimmt waren, konnten zu günstigen Grosshandelspreisen erworben werden.

The official uniform of the SA was the brown shirt with a brown tie. The choice of this color was a coincidence; A large shipment of shirts, which were originally intended for the German colonial troops in East Africa, could be purchased at low wholesale prices.

The first Wikipedia article incorrectly states that Roßbach bought the shirts in Austria in 1924.

From: Uniforms and insignia of the Sturmabteilung
It was Roßbach who effectively invented the "Nazi brownshirt" uniform since, in 1924, Roßbach located a large store of military surplus brown denim shirts in Austria originally intended for tropical uniforms.

This should probably read:

It was Roßbach who effectively invented the "Nazi brownshirt" uniform since, during Roßbach's exile in Austria 1924, a large store of military surplus brown denim shirts intended for tropical uniforms in East Africa, which were originally bought in 1921, was taken over by the Schill Youth in Germany.

The second Wikipedia article is not only inprecise but also questionable:

From: Sturmabteilung
Brown was chosen as a color for the SA uniform because so many of them were cheaply available after World War I, having originally been ordered during the war for colonial troops posted to Germany's former African colonies.

Since most available uniforms (not only in Germany but also in most of it's colonies) were some form of grey.

Ostafrika Südwest-Afrika

The Uniforms and insignia of the Sturmabteilung states:

The most common of these were World War I uniforms with full medals. Also common were uniforms of the Freikorps as well as uniforms of veteran groups such as Der Stahlhelm.

Since the youth groups (which was later intergrated into the SA) allready were using brown, that color was probably selected to distinguish it from the SS (and possibly Mussolini's Blackshirts).

This should probably read:

The official uniform of the SA was the brown shirt with a brown tie. The choice of this color was a coincidence; A large shipment of shirts, which were originally intended for the German colonial troops in East Africa, was purchased in 1921 by Gerhard Roßbach for use of his own society. They were later used for his Salzburg Schill Youth and in 1924 was taken over by the Schill Youth in Germany. The "Schill Sportversand" then became the main supplier for the SA brown shirts.

Mein Weg durch die Zeit. Erinnerungen und Bekenntnisse, Roßbach, Gerhard (1950)

  • Meine Beziehung zu den Braunhemden
    Zum Braunhemd möchte ich bemerken, daß das von mir eingeführte Lettow-Hemd weder in der Farbe noch im Schnitt dem späteren Hitlerhemd gleich war.
    Im Jahre 1921 hatte ich mit einigen Leuten der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Rossbach eine Radfahrt nach Ostpreußen unternommen. Um für diese Fahrt einheitlich ausgerüstet zu sein, wurde ein Restposten ostafrikanischer Lettow-Hemden, wie sie zuletzt die Offiziere der Schutztruppe getragen hatten, käuflich erworben und an die Radfahrer verteilt. Diese Hemden waren beige-braun, also viel heller als die späteren Hitler-Hemden und mit weißen Perlmuttknöpfen besetzt. Später habe ich diese Hemden als Gemeinschaftskleidung in meiner Organisation und 1924 auch in der Salzburger Schill-Jugend eingeführt. Durch Edmund Heines wurden sie dann für die SA übernommen und auch vertrieben. Ihre Farbe wurde von Monat zu Monat dunkler. So bin ich zwar der Liquidator des Lettow-Hemdes, nicht aber der Erfinder des "Original"-Braunhemdes gewesen, wie später oft behauptet wurde.

My Way Across The Era: Recollections And Confessions, Roßbach, Gerhard (1950)

  • My relationship with the brown shirts
    As to the brown shirts I would like to observe that the Lettow shirt I introduced was neither in color nor in cut the same as the later Hitler shirt.
    In 1921 I took part, togeather with others from the Rossbach society, in a bike ride to East Prussia. In order to be uniformly equipped for this trip the remaining stock of the East African Lettow shirts, last used by the officers of the Schutztruppe, were bought and distributed them to the cyclists. These Shirts were beige-brown, so much lighter than the later Hitler shirts and with white mother-of-pearl buttons. Later I introduced these shirts as community clothing in my organization and in 1924 also in the Salzburg Schill Youth. They were then taken over for the SA by Edmund Heines and also distributed. Their color grew darker from month to month. So I'm the one Liquidator of the Lettow shirt, but not the inventor of the "original" brown shirt as was often claimed later.

Source of quoted text (in German):

Note: Edmund Heines was responsible for the Schill Youth (which became part of the Hitler Youth in 1926) group, since Roßbach was still in Austrian exil in 1924. Since 1925, he was also responsible for all NSDAP youth groups. This Schill group was the original supplier to the SA with the brown shirts.

From: Schilljugend
Einer von Gerhard Roßbachs Gesinnungsgenossen bei der Gründung des Jugendverbandes Schilljugend war der spätere Röhm-Vertraute Edmund Heines. Dieser wurde 1925 von Hitler mit der Zuständigkeit für alle Jugendangelegenheiten der NSDAP betraut. Da der in Österreich weilende Roßbach weiterhin Einreiseverbot für Deutschland hatte, übernahm Heines die Führung der Schilljugend in Deutschland. Er leitete auch den „Sportversand Schill“, der unter anderem die SA mit Braunhemden versorgte.

One of Gerhard Roßbach's comrades in the founding of the Schilljugend (Schill Youth) youth association was Edmund Heine's who was later a Röhm-confidante. In 1925 Hitler entrusted him with responsibility for all youth affairs of the NSDAP. Since Roßbach, who was staying in Austria, was still banned from entering Germany, Heines took over the management of the Schill Youth in Germany. He also headed the "Schill Sportversand", which among other things supplied the SA with brown shirts.


  • The most curious aspect of all this is that 'inheritance from colonial troops' over such a stretch of time implies huge stockpiles for a miniscule force (blowing up the colonial past as well). / One correction re timeline?: early SS was firmly within SA, so grey (& really colourful 'mishmash') is preceeding brown which then in that special case gave way to SS-black? (There is one often shown clip with Himmler as SS subordinate giving his superior a file in office, afair him in Bavarian looking 'Oberland' brown shorts with thick alpine stockings?…) Jan 10, 2021 at 10:25
  • @LangLangC As John Toland implies, the color choice was probably a coincidence. In 1921 shirts were needed for the cyclists. The brown ones where available (exactly how many were bought is not meantioned). These were eventually used in the later Schill Youth groups. The shade of color and style were later changed. It would seem that the SA used the same shirts as the youth groups. Based on existing quotes, I don't think anything more can be determined. Jan 10, 2021 at 11:57
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    This goes to the core of the choice of the fashion, but could be better expanded to ridicule in interwar germany. Mar 1, 2021 at 9:51
  • @SamuelRussell It is doubful that any reliable, unbiased information will be found about how most peaple felt about the 'fashion' of the day (whether the SA or KPD uniforms). Society then, as now, was relatively split 50:50. Can you find a reliable source for 1960's to today that show whether most peaple ridicule the fashion of those periods? Doubtful in my mind. Remember, history has a tendency to repeat itself. Mar 1, 2021 at 12:03

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