In any other large franchise, each TV show getting its own new costumes and designs is just a perfectly normal thing. In Star Trek, it’s created a canonical tapestry that paints the picture of Starfleet’s uniform design department going mad with power in a post-money utopia society that lets them radically overhaul the design of a military/scientific/diplomatic force every few years for little reason than fashion.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is no exception to this in its addition to the long, madcap timeline of Starfleet uniform history. We’ve known for a while that the upcoming series — set between the events of Discovery’s second season and the early years of the original Star Trek during Christopher Pike’s captaincy of the Enterprise — would bring a new uniform design that draws upon the classic Star Trek uniform. Which, in of itself, was already different to when Discovery already did that, canonizing the Enterprise crew’s updated uniforms as something sent out with priority to crews on flagships, but don’t worry about that. Look at the new costumes! Pretty! Retro! And yet somehow still actually quite different to uniforms that would go on to be worn in the time of Kirk’s five-year mission on the same ship.
Star Trek’s official website shared our first really good look at the new uniforms, which were on display at the recent Star Trek: The Cruise V. At a glance, they’re largely a modernised take on that classic original Trek look. Uniforms for male officers are largely the same, while female officers now ditch the all-division-colour miniskirt for a long jacket worn over a similar undersuit and leggings. There’s even fancy black paneling on either side! Very swish.
But getting even closer up to the uniforms you can see even more subtle additions — bringing in some modern texture, for example, is the wonderfully over the top detail that each division colour has a special print on the shoulders and arms, subtly emblazoning the icon of their respective division — Operations, Sciences, Command, and presumably Medical too, although unseen here — in a pattern. You can’t see it from a distance, but up close, if you somehow forgot what department a colleague was in, you could squint real hard at their arms instead of the badge on their chest (which is now an actual badge, rather than a patch sewn into the chest). It’s a wonderful little detail in how extra it all is: on the one hand, the reality of a new TV show like this in a franchise like Star Trek means you want to give the costume designers something to do with such an iconic bit of visual design, pay homage to the classic, now-retro look. On the other, thinking about it in-universe terms just paints a picture of a design department with an outrageous amount of power, pushing out incremental wardrobe updates to the fleet with a frankly incredible level of reckless abandon.
Plus, are these meant to be separate uniforms to the ones that would be worn roughly a decade or so later during Kirk’s tenure aboard the Enterprise? In all likeliness, we’re probably meant to percieve this as us just seeing those same designs through modern eyes — that this is a vision of what they were always meant to look like in the fiction, we’re just getting to see that rendered in modern techniques. Perhaps, in the same way, Strange New Worlds’ bridge set balances the line between Discovery’s aesthetic and the classic glowy buttons and flip switches of the original Trek. But I’d like to imagine instead that at some point Starfleet’s design division sent up updated replicator files and a small note to every captain in the fleet that simply said “Sorry, even we thought the little shoulder print was too much: here’s a simpler shirt to wear.”
Thinking about Star Trek canon a little too seriously can always lead to some fun exercises in giving you a brain-splitting headache, but sometimes it just lets you imagine the absurd levels of bureaucracy that can exist in Starfleet at times. That, and a dedicated core of people very into their scientist-explorer-soldiers looking as slickly styled as possible at all times. We’ll get to see them in action when Strange New Worlds hits Paramount+ on May 5.
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