Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington in anticipation of the upcoming J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.
This Treknobabble came about from a post comment by Rachel who had noticed the Starfleet delta symbol embossed near the stitching of the fabric of the new movie uniforms worn by the Enterprise NCC-1701 crew in the advance promotional posters. I replied to her comment suggesting that I should perhaps write a Treknobabble about Star Trek’s costume design.
Rather than from research, I would much prefer writing about topics from information that I’ve read over the years. So I panicked at first, because the only relevant piece of information that I could remember was that the Original Series (OS) uniforms were made from a new material never seen on television before: velour! I had always taken this information as truth, but I thought I should investigate to find out when velour was first fabricated. Anyhow, when I sat down to start typing, a bunch of other Star Trek costume related thoughts popped into my head.
For those of you who have no interest in clothes, I can assure you that the stuff I have to write about is of more general interest. So I hope you will keep on reading. (I even mention a naked breast!) Mind you, I did do some research, but I’ll try not to bore you with too many dry facts and figures.
Those of you familiar with TOS will no doubt share my bewilderment in the fact that the Enterprise crew basically wore the same uniform for all three seasons. Even in the episode, “Shore Leave,” where they go to a planet to relax, they wear their uniforms! I suppose Starfleet is based on the military, so the uniform was a standard outfit for crew members to recognize each other on a landing party. But you would have thought that they would have relaxed the rules on board the ship and allowed crew members to wear whatever they wanted. I imagine having the crew wear the same clothes each episode allowed the budget to be spent elsewhere like on the costumes for the guest stars, human or otherwise.
The uniforms in the OS were simply a black tee-shirt with a coloured tunic over top, black trousers, and hi-top black boots. The tunic had a division insignia over the left breast and had gold braiding indicating rank. (No, I haven’t gotten to the naked breast, yet.) And there were no pockets anywhere. I think the black tee-shirt wasn’t worn sometimes so that whenever Kirk’s uniform was torn or slashed, Shatner would get to show some flesh. The colour of the uniforms was significant. Yellow was for command, blue was for sciences, and red was for security. I never saw any other colour uniform, so I guess everyone fell into one of those three categories. So if you were a creative artist like a painter or writer, then I guess you were basically screwed from space travel.
Concerning the lack of pockets, one would have to wonder where one would place items. To carry the communicators and phasers, they used another new invention: Velcro. And sometimes they used a leather (synthesized, not from a cow’s hide) wrap around waist holster type thing that was concealed under the shirt hem, I think. They never showed this close-up, so I’m not sure if it had pockets or Velcro on it. You can imagine that Velcro is not ideal for keeping something stuck on you. In the episode, “Space Seed,” you can even notice Kirk’s phaser drop to the ground when Kirk bends over to inspect Khan’s hibernation chamber. (Not sure why they didn’t reshoot the scene.) The tricorder had a shoulder strap on it. And they don’t use money or credit cards in the 23rd century, so there’s no need for pocket change.
(BTW, I actually took the Velcro idea for attaching my remote controls onto a speaker stand, thereby freeing up table space. This idea is better than having something with pockets to put the remote controls into, because I have the remotes aimed at my devices so that I can just press the buttons on the remotes without having to pick them up!)
Actually, I lied about there only being three colours. Because command has its privileges, Captain Kirk had another tunic he wore sometimes. It was a green wraparound number. My mom used to sew my clothes when I was growing up, and I asked her if she could make something like this green wraparound tunic for me. She commented that it was rather feminine looking. I heeded her advice and took back my request.
Now the simplicity of the uniforms was perfect, because it allowed children to dress up as their favourite character rather easily. We may have neither had the gold braid nor the insignia, but that was okay. There’s a popular group of older guys who have a kids following. I can’t remember their name. But they wear single coloured shirts with black pants. This makes it easy for kids to dress like them. Maybe they were inspired by the OS uniforms. People have often said the uniforms look like pajamas. I think the OS anticipated the sweat pants look adopted by the university crowd.
Regarding the use of velour, there was a problem that wasn’t anticipated. The costumes would shrink a bit after each washing. So, contrary to popular belief, Shatner was not getting fatter as the series progressed, the shirts were getting smaller!
There were some other crew costumes. I think some technicians wore blue coveralls with a black tee-shirt. Uhura had worn a diaphanous gown off-duty in her quarters in one episode. In the gym, Kirk wore these red leotards with black socks and was shirtless. I think this was before having ripped abs was the norm. Occasionally used were some shiny dress uniforms with more braid. There were some sparkly metallic fabric outer space outfits used in only one episode. The helmets were shaped like a men’s shaver with the curved foil, not the rotary heads.
Believe it or not, but it was only in the movies that the crew got to wear coats! On a cold planet in one episode, I think Sulu drapes himself in a blanket. When the crew needed warmth, they would phaser a rock!
The OS did show crew quarters with dresser drawers, but we never got to see where the clothes came from until the movies. I’m thinking of the scene in The Motion Picture where Ilia is showering and then after the sonic shower, an outfit is materialized on her through transporter technology. And she steps out of the shower fully dressed! (People have made jokes about why we’ve never seen a 23rd century toilet. The joke is that your bodily waste is simply transported out of you. I don’t find this funny. I think it sort of makes sense.) We never saw a replicator on the OS, so we can only speculate how clothes were made or washed.
After a commercial break in one OS episode, there was a scene in which we saw Kirk seated on a bed and putting on his boots with a guest star actress in his quarters. (We can probably guess what was going on during the commercial.) As a guy, I know that a pair of boots or shoes only gets comfortable after it’s been worn for a while. So I can’t imagine using a replicator to create a new pair of boots everyday. Oh, but I guess the replicator would make the pair of boots conform directly to the shape of your feet, so it wouldn’t be necessary to break in a new pair of boots.
There are on-set stories of actors (namely, Shatner) splitting their trousers during fight scenes. I think you can even see this in a televised episode scene, but don’t ask me for the name of the episode.
I guess I should mention the name of the costume designer for the OS and the beginning of The Next Generation (TNG): William Ware Theiss. He won an Emmy for TNG episode, “The Big Goodbye,” in which we first get to see Picard’s holodeck character, Dixon Hill. And he also costume designed for films with Academy Award nominations for Butch and Sundance: The Early Years, Heart Like a Wheel, and Bound for Glory. I know what you’re thinking. The OS crew costumes were so simple! Even the revealing costumes worn by the female guest stars seemed simple, but they were carefully engineered. The “Theiss Titillation Theory” states that “the degree to which a costume is considered sexy is directly proportional to how accident-prone it appears to be.” There’s a blooper from the OS episode, “Mudd’s Women,” in which a writhing guest actress has a breast pop out of her costume. (Not so carefully engineered after all.)
The costumes worn during the first two years of TNG were known to generate body odour because the fabric didn’t breathe. But worse than that, they also gave the actors back problems because of the tight fitting one-piece design. I think Theiss was retired by the third season, so Robert Blackman came in and the uniforms became two pieces again like in the OS. Picard even got a jacket that the other crew members never got. (Like I said, command has its privileges.)
In real-life, there are some people investigating “wearable computers.” This is a neat concept that was never explored on Star Trek, or if it was used, it was not explicitly mentioned. For example, you could have sensors embedded in your clothes that could monitor your life-signs and bodily functions. Each crew member could be constantly monitored and the doctor could be alerted by abnormalities.
This article is getting too long and I haven’t even talked about missing shirt insignias, belly buttons, the boot/pants one-piece, communicators built into the insignias, wrist communicators, or the “Picard maneuver.” I also wanted to talk about the costume designer for the new Star Trek movie: Michael Kaplan. J.J. Abrams has worked before with all the major production members on the new Star Trek except for Michael Kaplan. And he was the costume designer for Blade Runner!
I don’t know why I worried about having nothing to say about Star Trek fashion. BTW, velour was invented in 1844. Maybe Star Trek popularized it! And Velcro debuted in the early 1960’s, but was not widely used. People attribute the popularity of Velcro to its use by NASA. Hmm… I wonder if Star Trek got the idea to use Velcro from NASA, or if it was the other way around? The word Velcro comes from the words velour and crochet!
One last thing. If Star Trek is to be believed, the tie will not survive into the 23rd century.