William Shatner DeForest Kelley Majel Barrett

More Science Fact Than Science-Fiction: The First Movie Uniforms

William Shatner DeForest Kelley Majel Barrett
William Shatner, DeForest Kelley and Majel Barrett on the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (MovieStillsDB)

The Star Trek: The Motion Picture uniforms typically rank low among fans’ favorites. Their pastel colors don’t exactly scream excitement. But the point was to make them look realistic; more “science fact than a science-fiction,” in the words of their designer, Robert Fletcher.

Fletcher told Fantastic Films magazine (February 1980) — My Star Trek Scrapbook has the whole interview — that he was instructed to make the uniforms “more logical” than the show’s — “something to give a solid feeling of reality, clothing that people can live and work in efficiently.”

After all, he said, the last thing a female crew member needs in an alert situation is to worry about a run in her pantyhose…

Fletcher said in a separate interview with Starlog (April 1980) — also scanned by My Star Trek Scrapbook — that the challenge was making the uniforms looks futuristic without drawing too much attention to them. “That was one thing Robert Wise,” the director, “did not want to happen.”

He wanted the clothes simply to be there, to be accepted, to look logical — to seem real, very real, not phony in any way.

Variety

Speaking about the variety in uniforms, Fletcher remarked that the army doesn’t have only one type of uniform either.

Captain Kirk, for example, has a Class A, Class B, dress uniform and two types of leisure outfits or fatigues.

Another reason, he told Starlog, was to make scenes visually more interesting:

Most of the film takes place inside the Enterprise and the one way to get visual variety is for people to change their clothes.

Field jackets

Star Trek: The Motion Picture introduced special outfits for away missions.

Fletcher told Fantastic Films these field jackets could carry equipment the explorer might need in his explorations, “leaving his hands free to work — a much more efficient practice than carrying around their tools in their hands like in the old series.”

Engineering suits

James Doohan
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan publicity photo of James Doohan

He also gave the engineering crew special suits.

“It was only logical,” said Fletcher. “After all, a mechanic doesn’t work in a suit and tie.”

His idea was that Scotty and his men, working around dangerous materials, needed protection.

They also need tools and devices to work with and places to keep them. I felt those outfits would handle those prerequisites very nicely.

Bland

Along with the white medical uniforms, the engineering suits were carried over into Star Trek II and the rest of the movie series.

But the main crew uniforms would undergo a dramatic change.

Many felt Fletcher’s uniforms summed up everything that was disappointing about The Motion Picture: they lacked color and drama. They were bland.

Fletcher told Star Trek: The Magazine (September 2002) years later that, on reflection, he agreed. “I didn’t like them much myself!”

He was given the opportunity to design something more theatrical for The Wrath of Khan. Click here to read that story.

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