Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the teaser for Season 4, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 and the teaser for Season 2, and Star Trek: Picard Season 1. Minor spoilers are also present for other iterations of the franchise.
This is going to be a controversial list! Practically every Trekkie I know has their own take on which Starfleet uniforms are the best – and why! Even if we can agree on some of our favourite episodes and films, the aesthetic of Star Trek has always been a world unto itself. Some of the best uniform designs may not feature in the best stories, and likewise some of the best individual episodes and films may not have their casts in the best uniforms, so the two aren’t necessarily connected – though a truly bad costume can, in some cases, detract from an otherwise-decent story.
There have been a wide variety of uniforms used across Star Trek’s 55-year history. Most designs incorporate at least some elements of the original – the costumes designed for The Original Series by William Ware Theiss in the mid-1960s. Gene Roddenberry’s brief for the uniforms was that they were to be “simple, utilitarian, and naval” in style, reflecting his vision of the future and of Starfleet. The very first uniforms, seen in The Cage, Charlie X, and a couple of other early Season 1 episodes, arguably best fit the “naval” aspect of the brief, with toned-down colours and a slightly thicker rolled collar. It was only partway through Season 1 that the typical uniform in its three bright primary colours was rolled out.
Colour is a hugely important factor when discussing Starfleet uniforms. Since The Next Generation went off the air, most Star Trek projects have tried to move away from big bold blocks of colour, opting for smaller coloured patches or other ways to express differences in division and rank. Partly this is an attempt to make the uniforms look “modern,” but also I think there’s a feeling among at least some folks that the brightly-coloured shirts and tops of The Original Series in particular, but also The Next Generation, look rather childish or even camp, detracting from the serious messages present in many Star Trek stories.
That said, even the attempts to design sleeker, “cooler” Star Trek uniforms have almost universally resulted in garments that aren’t exactly serious by today’s standards! Recent attempts like the Discovery uniforms are still very sci-fi; hardly the kind of thing you’d see someone wear out on the street – unless they were on their way to a Star Trek convention. I guess what I’m trying to say is that trying to design a “cool Star Trek uniform” may simply be an impossible task!
So I’m all in favour of embracing the campiness – at least to a degree. Once you get lost in Star Trek, things like uniform colours don’t take you out of it, or at least they don’t for me. I’m not really a fan of attempts to make uniforms that look too much like things that we already have in the real world. There obviously has to be a line between something plausible and something completely outlandish, but in sci-fi that line can be further away than some folks seem to think!
Several generations of Starfleet uniform have become truly iconic; instantly recognisable emblems of the franchise that hardly anyone with even a passing knowledge of popular culture could fail to identify. This has been helped by internet memes, with Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Captain Kirk, Captain Janeway, and even Voyager’s Doctor all re-entering popular culture years after their respective series went off the air.
We also need to give some of the new variants time. A uniform – or any aesthetic element of a series or film – doesn’t become an icon overnight, so the 32nd Century uniforms we saw in the Discovery Season 4 teaser, the uniforms in Picard Season 1, and whatever the Strange New Worlds crew end up wearing need time to grow on us! Some Trekkies have already taken to some of the new styles, which is great, but for a lot of folks it takes time to even get used to a whole new look – let alone learn to love it!
As I always say, this whole list is entirely subjective! If you hate all of these uniforms and love others, that’s 100% okay. As with practically every aspect of Star Trek, it’s a big galaxy and there’s room for fans with different tastes and preferences. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at five of my favourite Starfleet uniforms!
Number 1: The Motion Picture – Admiral’s variant
I can understand why fans were unimpressed with The Motion Picture uniforms on the whole. They represent an attempt – the first real attempt – for Star Trek to try something new and step away from the bold primary colours of The Original Series, but ended up being understated at best, bland and forgettable at worst. The dull colours, t-shirt design, and lack of any distinctive features all meant that these uniforms only ever saw one outing.
But there was an exception! Kirk’s uniform as an Admiral, which he wore for the first part of the film prior to taking command of the Enterprise, is undoubtedly one of my favourites. It’s understated, for sure, but I love the smooth lines between its grey and white sections, the high angled collar, and how the gold Starfleet insignia stands out without being too flashy or over-the-top.
A lot of the criticism of The Motion Picture’s uniforms is absolutely fair. But there’s something about Kirk’s variant that I absolutely adore. I’d suggest that it’s the most “uniform-looking” costume in the whole film, and with its shoulder epaulets and wrist braiding, it’s a unique blend of The Original Series and future, more military-inspired uniforms – some of which we’ll look at further down the list.
Number 2: The Next Generation – Season 3-7 variant
I’m not calling today’s list my “all-time” top uniforms, but if I were putting Starfleet uniforms in a ranked list these uniforms would have to be near the top. Excluding variants like the acting ensign uniform Wesley Crusher wore, Troi’s “casual” outfits, and Picard’s jacket, the standard uniforms that were introduced beginning in Season 3 of The Next Generation hit all the right notes for me.
These uniforms have a high collar, which gives them a more “serious” feel than the previous crew-neck style. They retain the large blocks of colour across most of the top, yet the colours are ever so slightly toned down when compared to the bright colours of The Original Series, which I’d argue makes them appear a bit more serious and less camp. With the collars and pants being black, the coloured blocks on the top are striking and draw the most attention, and it’s easy to tell at a bare glance which officer represents which division.
It was a surprise when The Next Generation swapped the red and gold colours over – The Original Series had used gold for command and red for security/engineering. But there’s no denying it works well, and Picard and his crew honestly look fantastic in these uniforms.
Number 3: First Contact and Deep Space Nine Seasons 5-7
Though reportedly “uncomfortable” for some of the actors, I really like these uniforms. Until Star Trek: Picard premiered last January, they were also the most up-to-date uniforms in Star Trek’s internal timeline – at least if you exclude far future variants! These uniforms shrank the division colours down, retaining only a coloured undershirt poking up through the collar, with the rest being black and grey.
To me, this design says “new Star Trek” – even though the uniforms haven’t been new for almost 25 years! When the franchise was off the air, and even after it returned with prequels, these uniforms still represented the furthest forward Star Trek’s timeline had got, and I guess it’s for that reason I have more of an affinity to them. They’re modern-looking, swapping out big blocks of colour for greys and blacks that are more toned-down, and I guess the intention was to give them a more military style.
First Contact and Insurrection are two of my favourite films, and the latter seasons of Deep Space Nine – where these uniforms were also worn – saw the Dominion War story arc play out, which happens to be my favourite part of that series. I have very positive associations, then, between these uniforms and the narratives they were present in!
Number 4: The Wrath of Khan uniforms – a.k.a. the “monster maroon”
Speaking as we were of uniforms with a very military style, the uniforms which debuted in The Wrath of Khan were a total change from those present in The Motion Picture three years earlier. They incorporated elements of military dress uniforms, with a wide double-breasted jacket, high collar, epaulets, rank insignia, and a belt around the jacket.
In Star Trek’s internal timeline, these are the longest-serving uniforms (that we know of!) having been in service for around 75 years. I don’t personally think that they work well without the high collared undershirt, so my preference is for the Wrath of Khan variant, not those seen in The Next Generation. But the fact that they were in service for a long time is neat – and a way for The Next Generation to connect itself visually to the films of The Original Series era!
If The Original Series uniforms were campy and bright, these military-inspired ones were the complete opposite. Designed to be serious and focused while still retaining some colour, I think they look amazing. Having so many different elements could’ve made for a complicated look, but the simple use of one predominant colour helps settle things down.
Number 5: Star Trek: Picard – 2399 variant
Star Trek: Picard showed off two new uniform styles – one for flashback scenes and one for Starfleet in 2399. I would have preferred the flashback uniforms were replaced with the First Contact uniforms as they didn’t look great and were ultimately unnecessary, but the 2399 uniforms – which we saw Commodore Oh, Rizzo, and later Acting Captain Riker wear – were fantastic.
What I like most about these uniforms is that, after almost twenty years, colour was back in a big way! Enterprise had blue boiler suits, Discovery mostly showed off an all-blue look, and while neither of those uniforms are bad, I was keen to see something visually different – something more “Star Trek.” Picard delivered.
These uniforms are, in some respects, similar to the Voyager and early Deep Space Nine uniforms in that they’re mostly black with a coloured shoulder area and collar. But the lack of a prominent undershirt and the Starfleet delta detailing on the coloured sections makes them look far superior to those older uniforms! I hope we’ll get to see more characters wearing these uniforms going forward.
So that’s it! Five of my personal favourite Starfleet uniforms.
Aesthetic, colour, and costume style are very much subject to personal taste, and I know there can be a range of opinions on all of these things. Despite that, with the exception of Kirk’s uniform from The Motion Picture, I think a lot of Trekkies would put at least one or two of these uniforms on their own lists of favourites!
There really aren’t many Starfleet uniforms that I passionately dislike. Most serve a purpose, and it’s usually at least understandable what the intention behind the design was. Enterprise’s boiler suits, for example, were clearly inspired by modern-day naval, submarine, and astronaut uniforms, and were designed to be a bridge between more typical Starfleet uniforms and 21st Century attire.
Voyager and Enterprise kept consistent uniforms during their entire runs, but every other Starfleet crew has had at least one change of uniform. Changing things up keeps the aesthetic of Star Trek interesting, and while I can understand why some folks lament changes of this nature, without radical departures from “normal” uniforms we wouldn’t have got to see some of the best and most visually interesting ones. I like that the Star Trek franchise is bold enough to continue to shake things up.
The teaser trailer for Discovery’s impending fourth season showed off another new uniform – a more colourful variant of the 32nd Century uniform that we saw worn by Admiral Vance and others. Though we really only had a few seconds of footage, I liked what I saw and I think these new ones have the potential to join a future list of this nature!
Regardless of what your favourites might be, and whether or not any of them made this list, I hope it was a bit of fun. I’ll never miss a chance to talk about Star Trek!
The Star Trek franchise – including all titles on the list above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. All Star Trek shows and films mentioned above may be streamed on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom. Availability may vary by region. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.