And Women Wore Less - Starfleet Uniforms Part 3: 2350s - 2370s ~ Part I
We’re returning this week with the third part of our discussion on Starfleet uniforms, focusing specifically on the uniforms worn during The Next Generation.
This uniform style follows on from the Monster Maroons, which were presumably Starfleet’s longest running uniform, having been used - with only minor variations - for over almost 80 years.
Of course, we all know the real reason the uniforms didn’t change in that time is because that was the gap of time between the end of ‘An Undiscovered Country’ (2293) and the start of Next Gen (2364).
This becomes a bit difficult to explain in-universe when you take into consideration the fact that Starfleet was apparently fine with this uniform style for almost a century, but then had so much trouble deciding on another design they liked as much that they changed their uniform style almost half a dozen times in only two decades.
The reasons for these changes were varied, including actors’ discomfort and wanting to distinguish the different series. We’ll only be discussing the first two variations of the 24th century Starfleet uniform in this post, and saving those featured in DS9, Voyager and the Next Gen movies for next week’s post.
The first Next Generation uniforms, worn in the early seasons, were designed by the original series costume designer Bill Theiss. They were one-piece jumpsuits made of spandex and sized slightly too small, so that when they were worn they’d stretch and provide a smooth appearance.
The division colours were on the chest, back and sleeves, as well as piping on the shoulders, collar and pant cuffs. The rest of the uniform was black and it was worn with black boots.
These uniforms were the first to change the division colours used by Starfleet. Red and gold, used for the Engineering/Security and Command divisions in the Original series, were swapped around. Now the division colours were a deep wine-red for Command, mustard-yellow for Engineering and Security, and a sort of sea-blue that was also sometimes more green for Science and Medical.
This was also the first uniform to introduce the Starfleet insignia combadge on the left breast, as well as rank insignia in the form of round pips on the right side of the collar.
Personally I’ve always liked the Next Gen uniforms, especially the way that the section of colour on the front of the uniform is reminiscent of the Starfleet delta. But comparing it to the next variation, the original seems a bit more costume-y, rather than uniform-like, in my opinion. I think it has something to do with the pant cuffs and how low the collar is…
As for why the uniforms changed, that was because of the actors -
We hated our space suits. There were no pockets in them. As much as they call it a stretch fabric, spandex in that configuration doesn’t give all that much. It hid nothing. - LeVar Burton, on the first two seasons’ uniforms
Apparently the final straw came when Patrick Stewart’s chiropractor warned that continuing to wear the uniform would mean risking permanent injury.
And yes, the cast did refer to their uniforms as space suits ;)
In the third season Robert Blackman joined the crew as the new costume designer. Here’s a little excerpt from an interview with him -
I joined Star Trek – The Next Generation, the third season. I was principally brought in to redesign the uniforms. Over the first two seasons, the actors had developed back problems and just a serious dislike for the fabric, which was Jumbo or Super Spandex.
At the beginning of that third season, you will see that the uniforms change structure during that time period, eventually ending up with that Eisenhoweresque mandarin collar, leaving the black yoke, leaving the angled colour panel on the front, but removing all of the piping that was on the yoke and all of that sort of thing, making them, essentially, more formal. Er, more dignity.
Some of that was necessary, because of Patrick, because of Americans and their sense of the English and the sound of an English accent. To make it more casual seemed inappropriate.
While there was a transitional uniform, with two vertical seams down the front of the jacket and dart seams in the underarm area to create a more tailored look, but these only last a few episodes.
The uniform used from the third season through to the end of the show (and beyond, into Deep Space Nine) had the same overall style and division colours, but as Blackman mentioned in his interview, they feature a higher, more formal collar and get rid of the coloured piping from the yoke and pant cuffs.
More importantly the material used was changed to wool and the uniforms became two-piece.
According to Blackman - We moved on to wool gabardine. When you’re doing heroes, when you want the characters to look heroic, there are certain things that you must do to make them seem that way - Broader shoulder, narrow of hip, as vertical as possible, chest out, ready to go after evil.
As well as being more comfortable for the actors, changing the uniform to a shirt and pants combo, rather than a jumpsuit, meant that Patrick Stewart’s shirt almost constantly rode up, thus creating the iconic Picard Maneuver. (Here’s an amusing video made up of over five minutes of the Picard Maneuver, for anyone that doesn’t know what I’m referring to.)
The Theiss-designed uniform was still used by background actors until season four, after which time all actors wore the same uniforms.
Along with the standard uniform jumpsuit, a skirt or ‘skant’-style uniform was also available to Starfleet officers. Clearly influenced by the original women’s uniforms these uniforms are short-sleeved one piece dresses that could be worn with or without trousers. Women wore them with thigh high boots, while men wore them with shorter boots.
According to the book The Art of Star Trek, “the skirt design for men ‘skant’ was a logical development, given the total equality of the sexes presumed to exist in the 24th century.”
If there’s a better example that this to demonstrate why a mini-skirt style uniform is both impractical and silly for duty on a starship, I haven’t seen it.
I’m sure it’s no surprise to any of you that these uniform variants aren’t seen past the second second.
From the fifth season on Captain Picard wore a variation known as the ‘captain’s jacket’ which consisted of a two-tone grey and black duty uniform worn beneath a command-style jacket with quilted shoulders.
It was designed by Robert Blackman to make Captain Picard stand out from the rest of his crew, at the suggestion of Patrick Stewart. In its first appearance, the uniform would feature leather-like shoulders; however, in all other appearances, the uniform seems to be made of cotton, with suede used for the burgundy division colour.
Starfleet medical personnel also had a variant of the uniform which featured a cut similar to that of the skant which, apart from the black shoulders, was completely medical division blue. This tunic was worn over separate black trousers and the standard boots.
The original design of this variation had two front pockets and a raised band in the midsection, but these elements were later removed. Doctor Pulaski preferred to wear this uniform.
Another variation of sorts was that Doctor Crusher often wore a blue lab coat over her uniform.
I think this just about wraps up the first part of this discussion. Tomorrow I’ll be talking about the many other variations to Starfleet uniforms, including dress uniforms, the uniforms worn by admiralty, cadets, and other miscellaneous uniforms.
For now, please feel free to share your thoughts on these uniforms :)