How Star Trek Uniforms Became Iconic

Bright reds, blues and golds. This is how the saga defines the uniforms of the Starfleet crew in the “Star Trek” series in 1966. We owe them to costume designer William Ware Theiss, responsible for interpreting the vision of the United Federation of Planets by Gene Roddenberry , the creator of the series. “Roddenberry wanted the clothes to be simple, with no pockets,” explain Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann, authors of “Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier” (Insight Editions).

“Roddenberry wanted to limit parallels with the military, since the operation of the ship in the series was only partially military”

“As a result, Theiss designed Starfleet uniforms as non-military looking garments, consisting of a simple tunic, a pair of boots and tight black trousers. A small gold stripe on the sleeves denotes the rank and color of the uniform indicates the service assigned to each member of the crew.”

“The colors for these uniforms were chosen for purely technical reasons. Theiss and the producers wanted to find three colors that would be different enough from each other to be distinguished on black-and-white screens (which were still used in many homes ), but also colors bright enough for newer color TVs.”

“Theiss chooses blue (for science personnel), red (engineering and general services) and green (command). Lime, to be exact – not gold, as many people think, adds Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann. The command color appeared golden due to the lighting chosen during filming and the type of film stock used.” Note that wearing a red sweater does not bode well. The redshirts become an archetype, that of the character parachuted into a series and who dies quickly.

The women have a uniform that differs, as the two experts point out: “Initially, they also wore pants, but after the two pilots of the series, they were imposed mini-skirts, which becomes the signature of Lieutenant Uhura .”

In the background on the left, Nichelle Nichols in the role of Lieutenant Uhura in “Star Trek” (REX FEATURES/SIPA).

1970s sinking

When “Star Trek” arrived in theaters in 1979, the costumes imagined a decade earlier did not follow. As Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann explain, “The film’s producers wanted the new uniforms to appear ‘logical’ to viewers, to be clothes people could live and work in effectively. According to them, the new ‘Star Trek’ had to sound more ‘scientific’ than ‘science fiction'”.

Robert Wise, the director, also has his say:

“He found the old colors to be garish and disturbing. Wise wanted the audience to focus on the characters’ faces and their emotions rather than their outfits.”
LThe team of “Star Trek, the film”, in 1979

Costume designer Robert Fletcher therefore reviewed the entire range of costumes, with a palette of popular colors at the time: light gray, pale blue, beige and brown. “The only detail that reveals a crew member’s service is the background color of the patch with the insignia. The patches are round, with the famous arrow symbol superimposed. The color of the circle represents each member’s service crew: white for command, red for engineering, green for medical, orange for science, gray for security and pale gold for operations”, specify the two authors.

Leonard Nimoy and his famous orange patch in “Star Trek, the movie” (REX FEATURES / SIPA).

Everyone on the “Enterprise” is forced to wear unflattering tight-fitting jumpsuits, with, moreover, pants that integrate the shoes in one piece.

“Fletcher will quickly realize that these costumes are both difficult to make and to make the actors wear, explain Block and Erdmann. In addition, the public makes fun of them, comparing them to onesies for children.”

1980, repentance

Robert Fletcher, who has not said his last word, will therefore review his copy for the following three films (“Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan”, 1982, “Star Trek 3: In Search of Spock”, 1984 , and “Star Trek 4: Return to Earth”, 1986).

“The burgundy uniforms he designed for ‘Wrath of Khan’ suggest an influence from Hollywood’s Golden Age marine-themed films, such as ‘Prisoner of Zenda’ or ‘Captain Fearless’ – which were among Gene Roddenberry’s favorite movies, decipher Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann. The burgundy uniforms were a hit. Everyone – producers, actors and fans – loved them and still love them.”

“Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (RONALD GRANT/MARY EVANS/SIPA).

Back to basics

“For ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ (1987-1994), William Ware Theiss returns as costume designer and takes up his idea of having the upper part of the uniform reflect the service of each crew member, continue Block and Erdmann. The lower part and the sides are black – which makes the uniforms elegant, with the added benefit of making the actors appear slim. Theiss chooses original shades of colors that he finds flattering: wine red , duck blue and, for contrast, mustard yellow.”

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” (CBS Paramount International).

Small inconvenience all the same: as the costume designer Robert Blackman tells it, when he arrives at the third season, he finds costumes… which stink. In question, the elastane, so eighties, that Roddenberry had decreed “material of the future”. Very uncomfortable, it underlines all the faults and creases, which will give rise to a tic well known to fans: the “Picard Maneuver”, where we see Patrick Stewart, who plays captain Jean-Luc Picard, continually shoot at his pullover. Blackman therefore replaces elastane with wool gabardine and adds a mandarin collar.

“When Robert Blackman designs new costumes for ‘Deep Space Nine’ and ‘Voyager’, he retains Theiss’ color scheme, although his uniforms are less form-fitting, making them more functional and more comfortable for the actors,” trace Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann.

As for the navy blue suits used in “Enterprise”, which takes place in an era before the other series, they “had to give the impression that they had evolved directly from the suits dedicated to the space missions of NASA personnel”.
Star Trek : Enterprise

The return of the miniskirt

“For more recent films, starting with J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Trek’ in 2009, costume designer Michael Kaplan wanted to keep the uniforms in the tradition of the original 1966 series. But he also wanted to reinterpret them, make them more It kept the colors red, blue and gold. Then it incorporated small Starfleet insignia. The design is tiny, almost subliminal, so the public may not notice it.”

Star Trek (2009)

With J.J. Abrams, the mini-dress is back, a controversial subject if ever there was one. In the first series, Uhura wears a mini-skirt, unlike her male colleagues, which has been widely accused of sexism, even though the saga aims to be feminist and egalitarian. Fans then imagine a theory: all “Star Trek” uniforms are unisex! This is corroborated by scenes from “New Generation”, where men wear the mini-dress, or “skant” (skirt + pant). There are, of course, only extras who wear them, never a leading male character.

For “Star Trek: Without Limits” (released on August 17), Justin Lin recruits a new costume designer: Sanja Hays. “She chose to eliminate the arrow motif and used a heavier material for the uniforms, note Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann. The women’s uniform, always a dress, has long sleeves with a band around the wrist to mark rank, which the old short-sleeved dress did not have.”

“Through all these changes, there is something intangible in these clothes that are unmistakably identified as Starfleet uniforms, conclude Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann. Perhaps this familiarity comes from the fact that each costume designer has drawn on the work of his or her predecessor. The line of a hem may change, but it reflects the lines that came before it. They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This goes for the ‘Star Trek’ uniform.”

The proof, at the end of “Star Trek: No Limits” (warning spoilers), Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) is offered to join Starfleet. She has only one question: “Should I wear the uniform?”