I’ve drawn a ton of different uniforms over the life of the comic – many in this current storyline alone. I’ve gotten to know their ins and outs and the details that make them all unique. Here’s my take on which worked best and which should be burned, ranked from favorite to most hated.
Toss-up: The Motion Picture Flag officer Uniform and Captain’s Class B
This one is a shocker to even me because I generally favor William Ware Theiss’s work far above Robert Fletcher’s. The flag uniform is a streamlined, powerful, high contrast statement that makes Kirk stand out as a rank above everyone else around him. It’s dressy, but it’s not bulky. It says “brass” without saying “dangling swords and medals”. And, yes, I even like the biorhythm detector that divides the midsection . The class B expertly walks a fine line between exploitively sexy and professional. The short, arm-squeezing sleeves, tight torso, and dipping v-neck (which evokes Kirk’s first season TOS wrap-around) are feminine, yet the same features along with the ribbed details contour and expose just how manly 1970’s Shatner was.
The Next Generation First Season Duty Uniform
Based heavily on the outfits Theiss created for Roddenberry’s failed pilot Planet Earth, the first season TNG uniforms are pure sex. The skin tight spandex unitard, stretched tight and wrinkle-free over (likely prosthetic) pecs, looks and acts like a comic book superhero outfit. The black shoulders even mimic a cape. Ever notice a lot of “Encounter at Farpoint” is shot from a worm’s eye view? It’s a classic superhero angle. The divide between the division colors and the black legs follows the shape of the Starfleet arrowhead. It’s a look that would define every uniform that would follow for the next twenty years (and more, judging from the upcoming Picard series). The shoulder and pant cuff piping is a nice detail lost in later iterations. While still militaristic, it tones those features down with boots mostly hidden under flared pant cuffs and pips replacing sleeve braids. It’s Star Trek’s most design-centric outfit. This goes for the skant as well. I love it, especially for its unisex quality. Dudes look as good in it as women. The sleeves are cute and the skirt is much more modest than its Original Series counterpart. A lot of fans like to repeat the nonsense that this uniform was impractical since the spandex demanded physical perfection from the actors. This concern seems to only apply to the men, since the women continued to wear spandex onesies throughout the series – even after pregnancies – while the men got loose two-piece outfits.
The Original Series Production Duty Uniform
This is the one that started it all (as far as viewers were concerned). It’s colorful, yet professional. Everything we expect from a naval uniform is present, including insignias, easily deciphered divisions, and rank. Their somewhat casual look is grounded in militarism by the sleeve braids and high-heeled boots. The short, untucked shirts over high-waisted pants should look goofy, but somehow don’t. Yes, the women’s skant is sexist. The skirt is so short one can often see flashes of underwear that would make any anime director applaud. This is hardly a look suited for an office or military environment, and the fact that its mandatory only makes it worse. But, from a pure fashion standpoint, with its long sleeves, asymmetrical collar, and thigh-high boots, it’s fabulous.
The Original Series Captain’s Wrap-Around
This is a sexed up, chest bearing version of the standard male uniform because, let’s face it, Star Trek presented Shanter as a sex object. I prefer the version with the collar braids. It gives more shape to the v-neck and broadens the shoulders without ugly padding.
Deep Space Nine/Voyager Duty Uniform
I’m not a fan of either of these shows, but I have a grudging affection for this uniform. It’s the best variation on Theiss’s original TNG design. It gave a two-piece outfit to women and men alike. The all-black body looks great, and while it tones down the colorfulness, the lavender turtle-neck somehow makes up for it. It also looks good with the sleeves rolled up. Though, that begs the question as to why there wouldn’t just be a short sleeve variant.
The Original Series Pilot Duty Uniform
Historically, this one actually started it all. It definitely looks like a primordial version of the production duty uniform. The colors are muted, the rank braids are less functional, and the insignias are small and hard to read. But it has its charms. It’s mostly unisex, and I like the ribbed collar that doesn’t try to be a mock turtle-neck.
Toss up: Discovery Enterprise and Beyond Duty Uniforms
These are both a decent variation on the Original Series duty uniform. My only quibble would be the collars and shoulders, which on both are just too stuffy and stiff. They get rid of some of the comfort and laxness of the original design.Props to Discovery’s black skirt variant which isn’t too short to be ridiculous, but isn’t too long to be puritanical.
The Motion Picture Everything Else
There is something to be said about a uniform that is comfortable on a ship with perfect environmental control. That doesn’t mean they should look like pajamas. Most of the confusing myriad of TMP uniforms just don’t work. They’re often unflattering and their colors, especially the brown, are bland and uninspiring. The unitards have nothing to break them up but the biorhythm device that adds a mere dot to the midsection. The two-piece honestly looks like sleepwear. Spock’s odd collar looks too complex for something that has so little detail everywhere else. The one variation I do like is the kimono top. It reminds me of the work jumpsuits in TOS.
2009/Into Darkness Duty Uniform
Supreme Kudos for returning to the show’s roots as far as flashy color and comfort. But this variation on Theiss’s TOS design just doesn’t work for me. The material is too thin. It looks like silk, and silk is tacky. It just doesn’t conform to the body the way the old velour did leaving a lot of unsightly wrinkles. The collar is too wide and loose and the hem is too long. Plus those pants are really chunky and haphazardly stuffed into the boots. Why would you stuff pants into boots? Are they going to be walking through a swamp? Are they fly fishermen? I’m also not a fan of the arrow head texture that covers the entirety of it. It looks like the netting on a football uniform top. The skirt variant is cut well, but with no sleeves comes no rank. How did they miss that for two films?
The Next Generation Third Season Duty Uniform
The folks slowly taking over TNG from Gene were sexist prudes, and the first thing that showed this was the change in the uniform. While Crusher and Troi had to keep on keeping on in skin tight spandex, the boys got these extremely paunchy looking two-piece muffin tops. What was supposed to be a more flattering option made everything on an aging man look worse. I mean, who wants love handles built into their shirts? And the mandarin collars just add to the stiff, no-fun-allowed theme. Were naked necks too sexy for Rick Berman? And please don’t tell me about how Patrick Stewart’s chiropractor warned him against the first season onsies. Chiropractors believe disease is caused by interruptions in life line energies.
The Next Generation Captain’s Jacket
I’ve got an idea. Let’s take a frumpy, ill-fitting mock turtle neck with ribbed shoulders and tuck it into frumpy, ill-fitting pants with no belt. Now, let’s put a frumpy, over large jacket made of velvet with a completely different style of ribbed shoulders on top of that. In the TNG style of covering the men as much as possible, this takes the cake. Kirk was all about ditching fabric when he put on a uniform variant. Picard just keeps adding pointless layers. At the very least the jacket doesn’t have shoulder pads.
Toss-Up: Discovery and Enterprise Duty Uniforms
Nothing is more boring and over used in modern science fiction than blue uniforms. Everyone looks alike. Nobody looks good. Enterprise’s coveralls make the crew look like janitors. Discovery’s blues are more form fitting, but still look like something a mechanic would wear. The boring blue clashes badly with the boring division-based metallics that line the sides. What’s really strange and off-putting is that it’s a two-piece, but the metallic design in the jacket continues onto the pants. Either make it a one-piece, or stop the metal works at the top’s hem. Rank is hard to see on both, with Enterprise’s as close set squares that blend together and Discovery’s as completely invisible pips hidden in the insignia.
First Contact Duty Uniform
The TNG movie uniforms enflame and exacerbate every problem with the previous incarnations from the third season on. They’re ill-fitting and poorly tailored. Even more color is drained out of them by making the shoulders a bleak grey. The ribbed shoulders are bulky and uncomfortable looking, and their padding is so thick it rides up when the actors lift their arms. Are they planning to play football in them? The inner layer looks to me a half inch thick and has a visible seam and zipper down the middle. For something made for a big budget film they look cheap and uninspired.
The Wrath of Khan Duty Uniform
WT-ever-loving-F were they thinking? These outfits would look ridiculous as dress uniforms, but as duty uniforms? The jackets are so absurdly ornate their difficult to parse rank insignias are on them twice – shoulder and arm. There’s a thick braid on the sleeve to show how long you’ve been in the service as if that’s important at-a-glance information. The collar colors that denote division clash with the bright maroon more times than not, especially the international orange Saavik wears around her neck. The jacket’s front fly opens to reveal… more jacket. It’s just as preposterous that anyone would run around a ship doing work in these as it is for Batman to do acrobatics in any outfit he’s worn since the 80’s. That’s why when people are prepping for the battle sequences in TWOK they’re all in the slightly less ugly and way more practical cadet outfits. Plus they look like bell hop…ehem… imperial navy uniforms. If the Federation is supposed to be anything, it’s definitely not an empire. And they somehow survived five movies and supposedly were in service for 75 years!
I agree as well. You have it just about as I would. I would only add that it is regrettable there is so little continuity in color, rank designators, or display of awards. If you could go back and take your top selections and fix this one qualm, I would be one happy Trek fan indeed.
PS- I think with serious simplification of the TWoK uniform, and efforts to tie what us under the jacket in with the “Cage” class B, it could work. Same with TMP- boil things down to fewer designs and colors, make the pant-shoe combo black, and those uniforms could work.
The other heinous designs are pretty irredeemable IMHO.
I agree with most of what you said, except – as much as I appreciate the return to the classic look – the Discovery Enterprise uniforms look extremely uncomfortable – especially around the neck. I think my favorite modern Trek uniforms are in Beyond. Even the environmental/survival jackets there look great.
I love TMP’s flag officer uniforms you highlighted first, and wish those had survived and been iterated upon into WoK and beyond. It was a treat to see them brought back for the JJ-verse films, even if only briefly.
And there’s no question that the sexiest outfits are TOS’s captain’s wrap-arounds!