Five of my favourite Starfleet uniforms

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.

Captain Pike in The Cage, sporting the first ever Starfleet uniform.

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!

The cast of Discovery Season 1 in their all-blue uniforms.

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.

Captain Picard’s facepalm is a popular meme – and reminds people about The Next Generation and the uniforms the crew wore.

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

Kirk wearing his admiral’s uniform – perhaps the only decent one in the whole film!

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

The cast of The Next Generation in Season 4.

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

Data, Worf, Geordi, Riker, and Picard in Nemesis.

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”

Kirk and Spock showing the “monster maroon” jacket in its open and closed positions in a publicity photo for The Undiscovered Country.

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

Acting Captain Riker showing off the command variant of the 2399 uniforms.

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.

Boimler and Riker on the bridge of the USS Titan wearing First Contact-era 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.

I didn’t put the Kelvin uniforms on the list this time. But they are pretty neat!

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.

Looking back at Star Trek: The Motion Picture on its 40th anniversary

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

On the 7th of December 1979, ten years after going off the air (and five years since The Animated Series went off the air), Star Trek was back. Star Trek: The Motion Picture premiered, and while it has been overshadowed in many ways by its sequel, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the film was a success – albeit not an overwhelming one according to distributors and producers – and reinvigorated the franchise. Make no mistake, if it weren’t for The Motion Picture, Star Trek as we know it wouldn’t exist today – there would’ve been no Wrath of Khan, and from that there’d have been no Next Generation or any future series or film. In a very real sense, The Motion Picture paved the way for the franchise’s future, and the success Star Trek enjoys today owes a lot to this film.

The Motion Picture was a risk for Paramount Pictures. Star Trek had shown that it had a number of very vocal fans – the letter-writing campaign in 1968 to get the series renewed demonstrated this – but its wider popularity was an unknown quantity, especially on the big screen. Reruns of The Original Series had garnered a larger audience than its 1966-69 original run, but there were still question marks over whether to make a new television series or to go down the box office route.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture turns 40 in December 2019.

Indeed, the project that would eventually become The Motion Picture started out life as Star Trek: Phase II, a television series that was to reunite the original cast – without Spock – for another five-year mission onboard the Enterprise. After a project called Planet of the Titans failed to get off the ground in the mid-1970s, by 1977 Phase II was officially in production. It has been said many times that the success of another 1977 project – Star Wars – is what led Gene Roddenberry and Paramount to reconsider the television series and make a film instead. While there is undoubtedly a kernel of truth to that, there were other factors at play too. The script which would eventually become The Motion Picture was originally set to be the pilot episode for Phase II but after a series of revisions and discussions between the creative team and the studio, the decision was made to enter production as a film instead, and two versions of the script were submitted – one by Gene Rodenberry and one by Harold Livingston, who’d been a producer on Phase II. Livingston’s script was chosen (by Michael Eisner – future CEO of Disney) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture was officially greenlit.

As an interesting aside, Phase II remained officially “in production” even after the decision was taken to switch focus to a film, and for much of 1977 the official line from the studio was that a series, originally set at 13 episodes, was being produced. It wasn’t until 1978 that the film would be officially announced.

So that’s a brief potted history of how it came to be. But despite making around $139 million on a budget of $46 million, Paramount considered the film a disappointment. The big risk had paid off, but not as much as they’d hoped. The expensive special effects and continued revisions to the script even during production were cited as reasons why, as was the less action-heavy, more ethereal storyline.

For me personally, it’s the lack of action and the deliberate slow pacing that gives this film something that others lack – a sense of “Star Trek-ness”. Star Trek was always into the weirder, more esoteric side of science fiction, especially prior to The Motion Picture, and this film stands alongside episodes of The Original Series as a pure science fiction work, not an action-sci fi film like The Wrath of Khan or First Contact. While some people might find its slower pace to be a grind, to me it makes it akin to watching a feature-length episode of the series, rather than just another action flick.

Because of the overwhelming popularity of The Wrath of Khan within the fanbase, The Motion Picture often gets a bad rap. People have said that “all of the odd-numbered Star Trek films are bad”, including The Motion Picture in with Search for Spock and The Final Frontier. Both of those titles have good and bad moments – the latter suffering perhaps from too much involvement from William Shatner – but to me, The Motion Picture is in a different league.

Some criticism of the film is that it feels like a two-and-a-half hour episode of The Original Series. But why should that be a criticism? The Motion Picture masterfully builds up its drama – the V’ger cloud’s attack on the Klingons, its destruction of the Epsilon IX station, and finally the death of new character Ilia all add to the stakes. While none of these are particularly dramatic, nor gory, that doesn’t detract from the threat, it heightens it. V’ger is shown to be a being of such incredible power that it can make whole fleets of starships vanish in a heartbeat. We don’t need huge explosions or a punch-out to learn this. V’ger’s power is also confirmed by the reaction of characters. So as the film progresses, we know what’s at stake.

To change lanes completely, I happen to really like the aesthetic of The Motion Picture. It’s very 1970s in some ways – the orange and brown tones, and some of the uniform choices in particular, but that’s not necessarily a negative thing. Kirk’s uniform as an admiral happens to be one of my all-time favourite Star Trek uniforms. The high collar, the belted tunic, and the simple curved lines in grey and white combine with a metallic gold Starfleet insignia to make an understated yet interesting uniform. I’m not a cosplayer by any means, but if I ever were to make myself a uniform, that would be the one I’d go for. And while we’re talking about things that look great, the sweeping shot over the Enterprise when Kirk is being taken aboard by shuttlepod is absolutely perfect. Combined with an amazing score – for which composer Jerry Goldsmith was nominated for an Academy Award – the full sequence is one of the most inspiring and moving in all of Star Trek, speaking for myself as a fan. When the music ramps up right as we see the Enterprise from the front for the first time, it can be quite emotional. I could happily watch that sequence over and over again.

Many of the sets built in 1978-79 were in continuous use (albeit in modified form) right through to Enterprise‘s cancellation in 2005. Some of the reuses are quite apparent in The Next Generation, so in that sense, the design choices made in The Motion Picture carried through the next two decades of Star Trek as a franchise. The panelling and angles on corridors in particular can be seen on the Enterprise-D and the USS Voyager, and the idea of a warp core as a large upright glowing tube is also something that has carried on right through Star Trek – even cropping up in CGI form in the most recent of the Short Treks episodes. Much of what we consider to be “Star Trek” in terms of aesthetic has its roots not in 1966 but in 1979 – future productions built on what designers and artists had created here. The Next Generation and Voyager in particular owe significant parts of their design to The Motion Picture.

The storyline of The Motion Picture is certainly different from many science fiction outings. It isn’t a film about defeating and destroying an enemy, it’s a film about bridging the gulf and communicating with a new form of life. V’ger, set up to be the film’s antagonist, wanted to evolve – to merge physically with its creator. The crew of the Enterprise could’ve used that moment of weakness to attack it, and maybe even destroy it – and in a different film perhaps that would’ve been the finale. But The Motion Picture builds up to this moment, and it isn’t the death and vanquishing of a foe that we see, but communication, and ultimately the creation of new life. Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, and the like may be fun to see on screen, but Star Trek is all about “seeking new life” – and what could be newer and more different than a hyperevolved, massively intelligent machine?

This side of Star Trek, though, has always been more of a niche product. When fans are asked about their favourite films, The Wrath of Khan and First Contact are usually somewhere up near the top, as well as episodes like The Best of Both Worlds, or DS9’s The Way of the Warrior. These are all action-heavy stories, and while Star Trek has enough room for both these and the slower-paced, thought-provoking ones, The Motion Picture falls firmly into the second category. With that comes being underrated and overlooked by fans who prefer more action-oriented stories.

When Spock describes V’ger as being little more than “a child”, he sets the stage for understanding, and from that, communication. The ultimate revelation that V’ger was, in fact, a probe of human origin was truly unexpected. The Motion Picture had an incredibly ambitious story which sought to blend these elements together. The cyclical nature of a returning spacecraft, the massive differences that almost certainly will exist between humankind and anything we might encounter in outer space, and at the heart of it all, the returning characters – not all of whom had enough to do, arguably. But the core dynamic between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy was still there. Perhaps The Motion Picture needed more fine-tuning, and perhaps its scope was too vast for a single film to properly encompass, but as a story it makes you stop and think. The galaxy isn’t just going to be humanoids, there are going to be things out there completely beyond our understanding. And the choices we make today – like probing outer space – may have consequences well into the future that we could never foresee.

As an inspirational message, I think that can’t be understated. Seeking out new life and new civilisations – the raison d’être of Starfleet – isn’t always going to be smooth sailing. But if we’re willing to look at things from a different point of view, to listen, to understand, and to communicate, we can find a way to coexist even with someone who seems to be big and threatening. I know the real world doesn’t always work that way, but Gene Roddenberry was always about showing us how humanity can be better than we are in the present day. Speaking personally, I find that aspect of The Motion Picture to be inspiring. As a work of science fiction, that’s the kind of message I admire and what I’d like to see more of on our screens.

Above all, The Motion Picture relaunched the Star Trek brand for a new decade, one which would culminate in The Next Generation and a return to television. If it weren’t for this film, Star Trek would look very different today – if it even existed at all. We can argue about which Star Trek film we like best, and at the end of the day it’s always going to be a subjective choice, but I’d definitely rank The Motion Picture highly on any list. Not just for what it did for the franchise, though that is incredibly important, but as a work of science fiction that wasn’t afraid to tell a thought-provoking story.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The film is also available to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray. Star Trek, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and all other Star Trek properties mentioned above are the copyright of ViacomCBS and Paramount Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.