The debate over whether or not Starfleet is a military organisation, a scientific one, or a messy, often contradictory combination of both has been a part of Star Trek since it began. One thing that we can always be certain of though? It loves a wardrobe shakeup. With Discovery’s upcoming season adding yet another uniform, here’s a look at four centuries (give or take an eight-century gap along the way) of Star Trek fashion.
Enterprise may have been one of the more recent Treks, but it gave us our earliest possible look at Starfleet fashion, in the years leading up to the Federation’s founding. These blue jumpsuits might feel like a precursor to what’s to come, but the thin shoulder straps of colours for Command, Operations, and Science divisions would rotate in and out of Starfleet for centuries to come.
Star Trek: Beyond might take place in an alternate universe, but because its story briefly touches on the ancient mission of Idris Elba’s Captain Edison (who eventually gets transformed into the villainous Krall), the uniforms depicted there are actually from before the moment the “prime” Trek universe splits into the “Kelvin” timeline, making them an evolution canonical to Enterprise and beyond. These draw a lot of inspiration from Enterprise’s uniforms, with the blue jumpsuit now grey and the division colour swatches significantly larger.
The same goes for the uniforms seen on the U.S.S. Kelvin in the opening of the 2009 Star Trek reboot — these were the uniforms being worn at the point of the timeline split, making them a part of both Trek timeline’s histories. A much more radical break from the century before, these replaced jumpsuits with universal black pants and a coloured long sleeve shirt: dark blue for Command, dark gold for Operations, and grey for Sciences.
At this moment in history, whoever’s in Starfleet costuming just had a bunch of ideas they wanted throwing out, presumably much to the chagrin of the poor officers who had to update their wardrobes multiple times in the next few decades. First up, this retro throwback to the blue jumpsuits of the earliest days of Starfleet, this time in a two-piece uniform, but with a major change: division colours saw an overhaul in a similar vein to the uniforms immediately preceding this look. Gold became the colour for Command, with metallic bronzes and silvers for Operations and Sciences, respectively.
Shortly after the Klingon-Federation war, Starfleet was in the process of sending out a second updated division colour change, because the best time for sweeping updates is just as you’re recovering from a nearly devastating intergalactic war. Maintaining the suits of the 2230s design, these introduced bold new colour schemes in place of the navy blue and metallics: black trousers and skirts for the first time, matched with jackets that predominantly featured the classic, bright yellow for Command, Red for Operations, and a navy blue for Sciences.
Late 2250s, Type A
INT. Starfleet Command, Wardrobe Design Division
Officer: We just sent out the new colour division jackets to the flagships, is it really necessary to have such a radical overhaul so soon?
Designer: Yes, it’s how I get paid. Everyone wears jumpers now! And we love beige, beige is very in on Vulcan right now.
Officer: Hang on, we’re keeping the gold and the blue and adding beige, won’t that be difficult to differentiate?
Designer: No one cares, those nerds are down in Engineering and never on the bridge. Also, the blue is baby blue now, the dark blue clashes too much.
Officer: Sure, fine, what — wait, hang on, you get paid for this? We live in a post-scarcity society!
Designers: ASKING QUESTIONS DOESN’T SOUND LIKE SENDING NEW UNIFORM DESIGNS TO THE REPLICATORS, ENSIGN.
Late 2250s, Type B
INT. Starfleet Command, Wardrobe Design Division, Three Days Later
Officer: You changed your mind.
Designer: I changed my mind. It was foolish to follow Vulcan fashion trends, and I miss my colours. We’re back, baby, let’s get that red in there!
Officer: OK, I’ll get these recalled by Command in the hour, any schematics that have gone out to the flagships will have to be withdraw — Designer: Oh, but the jumpers.
Officer: I’m sorry?
Designer: The jumpers are good! Let’s keep them. Oh, and the ladies get miniskirts now. Lovely. I have all this fabric that needs using up and we can’t just go back to the jackets.
Officer: That’s not how replicators wor — Designer: JUMPERS, ENSIGN.
It’d take another decade-plus, but Starfleet merrily marched back into the land of beige with this highly customisable variant. Robbing the divisions of much in the way of colour difference — there were variants in white, beige, and grey, and they were non-division specific — these uniforms had a wide arrange of alternates. They could come as one-piece jumpsuits or two-part trousers and tunics, they could have standard, high-necked, or flared collars, medical and operations officers even had the option to have a wide-collared wraparound tunic for good measure instead. Probably to make up for a lack of colour!
Fast-forwarding an entire generation, the Starfleet of TNG’s era decided to go back to big, bold colours — and a lot of black accents. The classic colours returned, but which division got them changed: red was now the colour of Command, gold for Operations, and blue for Science. While this style of uniform would persist for two decades, it did feature some updates over that period that evolved, but didn’t outright replace the original design: most notably there was the transition from a one-piece jumpsuit to a two-piece collared jacket and trousers, but it also introduced a gender-neutral miniskirt option called the “Skant”.
This itself has a lot of similarities to the evolved 2350s look, but instead of division colours taking up the majority of the arms and torso, they were relocated to the shoulders. Instead of the continuing collar on the jacket for rank insignias, these uniforms added a grey, high-necked undershirt that would have rank pips displayed on it. It’s also here you begin to see more of a delineation in the Science and Medical-specific division colours, with the blue slowly being replaced with a sea-green reminiscent of the early Sciences uniforms.
Never let it be said that something like an existentially threatening war got in the way of Starfleet fashion. Just as the Dominion War was breaking out, Starfleet once again issued an updated uniform design, borrowing heavily from the jacketed uniforms of the 2350s and ‘70s. There were some major twists though, primarily in the jackets: division-specific shoulder patches were replaced with two-toned, padded black-and-grey variants, with the grey undershirts now being swapped to reflect the division colours.
After two decades of a similar design ethos, Starfleet went into a much more animated overhaul here. Double-breasted tunics replaced the prior jackets, and now their colours were once again more evocative of the original 2350s designs: predominant use of division colour on the arms and torsos, broken up by black shoulders and collars. Further breaking up the divide between black and division colour this time however was a white band cutting across the arms and chests, carving out the “classic” shape of prior uniforms.
Someone at Starfleet Design couldn’t make their mind up though, and by the end of the decade we were back to coloured shoulders, evocative of the decade’s previous design in shape, but now broken up across the torso and neck area. The jackets were lengthened across genders, too, creating a more dress-uniform look.
This period was apparently what one might describe as a wave of 2360s nostalgia, because this uniform update feels very much evocative of that period, albeit with some small design tweaks. The grey undershirt is now a solid black, while the coloured division shoulder pads — featuring a subtle hexagonal design for texture — now extend to include a collar over it, and rank pips displayed on the chest rather than the neck.
Fast forward nearly eight hundred years, and we get to miss out on an awful lot of Starfleet uniforms. But we do get a glimpse of the very futuristic fashion of the 32nd Century in Discovery, and the future is…very grey. The most businesslike of all the uniforms we’ve seen so far, this tunic maintained division delineation through a large stripe running vertically down an officer’s right side — now adding specifically white for Medical personnel, on top of the red, gold, and blue for Command, Operations, and Science.
Interestingly enough, security officers, usually roped in with Ops, get their own uniform variant, presumably because tactical manoeuvres in a bulky suit were annoying. Featuring a dark blue honeycomb-padded section across the arms and upper torso, this variant was filled out with a similarly grey-toned jumpsuit.
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3180s, Type B
Last week’s Discovery season four trailer, meanwhile, gave us a much brighter variant on the uniforms, while also evoking the classic 2250s Type B design. The previous suit jackets remained, except now they were predominantly based on division colours — the former “stripe” now being black, with trousers to match.
Since we’ve not seen the season yet, it’s hard to say if these replace the other uniform entirely or are actually used on starships compared to Federation HQ — and how long they’ll last remains to be seen. But Star Trek history tells us that there’s always a wardrobe update just around the corner, so don’t be surprised to boldly go back into the wardrobe soon enough.