Harve Bennett

Redesigning Starfleet’s Uniforms for Star Trek II

Harve Bennett
Producer Harve Bennett surrounded by the Star Trek II cast

Few of the people involved in the production of the second Star Trek motion picture were happy with the uniforms Robert Fletcher had designed for the first film.

“I don’t blame them,” Fletcher told Star Trek: The Magazine (September 2002) years later. “I didn’t like them much myself!”

The costumes seemed to sum up everything that was disappointing about the film: they lacked color and drama. They were bland.

Fletcher, who had been brought in on The Motion Picture to redesign the uniforms William Ware Theiss had designed for the original television series, was tasked with redesigning them again. This time, though, there would be less budget.

Fletcher and Producer Robert Sallin decided to salvage what they could from the costumes that had been created for the first movie by changing the tailoring and the colors. A series of dye tests revealed that the old uniforms could take three different colors well: a blue grey, a gold and a dark red. The plan was to use these modified uniforms for the noncommissioned crew and cadets while enough money was found to design an entirely new wardrobe for main characters.

Hornblower in space

When Nicholas Meyer joined the production as director, he had some specific ideas about what he wanted to see in the new costumes.

I decided that this was going to be Hornblower in outer space, so I said, “OK, if this is going to be the navy, let’s hem them look like the navy; they shouldn’t be walking around in pyjamas,” which seemed to me to be what the uniforms in the first movie and the TV show looked like.

Prisoner of Zenda
Scene from the 1937 movie Prisoner of Zenda

Meyer had one other significant instruction for Fletcher: He wanted the costumes to be reminiscent of the clothes worn in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937).

Fletcher began work by producing a series of quick sketches. “I’ve always been used to an almost automatic drawing method,” he explained.

I scribble a lot and out of the scribbles comes the idea. Then I link that visual I’ve found for myself with other things intellectually and produce a scheme.

Fletcher was careful not to reproduce any specific naval uniforms and used the dark red color that had been discovered during the dry tests. Meyer was keen on this approach, since it made the costumes dramatic and created a strong contrast with the background.

The first version of the uniform had a stiff black collar like the costumes in Prisoner of Zenda. Bob Sallin suggested changing this to a turtleneck. When he made the alternations, Fletcher decided to use trapunto, which is a form of vertical quilting.

Military uniforms

Robert Fletcher uniform sketch
Uniform sketch for Star Trek II by Robert Fletcher

The new uniforms looked far more like military outfits than the ones from the last movie, which Fletcher conceded in an interview with Cinefantastique magazine (July-August 1982) defied the Star Trek tradition.

“[Gene] Roddenberry always contended that the Federation is not a military organization. Yet they always behaved as if it were,” he argued. “They have ranks, they have military courtesy and Kirk is definitely in command on his ship.”

Meyer preferred the military look and asked Fletcher to design rank insignia to make them look even more like real uniforms.

There was kind of a complicated arrangement of divisions and ranks expressed by the braid on the sleeves. I made that up. I organized it and produced a little instruction booklet about it for the wardrobe department and anyone else who was interested.

Initially, the insignia were on a band around the upper arm. This was moved to the cuff.

Flaps

William Shatner
William Shatner as James Kirk (Paramount)

The last major change was to redesign the flap of the double breasted jacket so that it could actually open. This was something Meyer requested. He felt the lighter color on the inside of the flap would frame the actors’ faces better.

However, the flaps presented Robert Fletcher with a problem. When it was open, one could clearly see the snaps that held it in place and — as he put it — these looked distinctly unfuturistic.

In order to make it look less like plain old snaps, I found this sterling silver chain that looked strange. I ordered a reel of it and sewed it in with the snaps to give it a feeling that it was perhaps a magnetic closing.

Fletcher then designed several variations of the uniform, most of which were worn by Kirk and not by the other characters.

It’s normal in any kind of military organization that you don’t have just one uniform; you have uniforms for specific tasks and specific times of day — formal, informal, combat, and so on. Kirk is the lead, so he goes through the most variations. When it seemed appropriate, he had a change.

Robert Fletcher’s new Starfleet uniform remained in use until the original cast retired, becoming as much a part of the Star Trek universe as William Ware Theiss’ original versions

17 thoughts on “Redesigning Starfleet’s Uniforms for Star Trek II

  1. Gawd, I HATED the Star Trek II uniforms. So bulky and uncomfortable-looking. And I can only imagine how ridiculously hot they must have been under the stage lights—like wearing a fur-lined parka.

  2. I liked them. They provided a real world feel to the whole picture. I think they looked somewhat comfortable, granted it must’ve been hot under those studio lights. They look no more bulky than a suit jacket.

    My only quibble is that they should’ve kept the division colors from the original series to provide a greater sense of continuity.

      1. you must be a product of the peace and love era… the ST II uniforms were most likely hot as hell but the didn’t look like actors wearing PJ’s on screen. those uniforms were the best of all TV and Movies put together…

  3. These uniforms were absolutely brilliant and evokes a sense of nautical regality missing in TOS and TMP. Fabulous Star Trek design sense with a nod to ‘Cavalry bib’ tunics, bloused ‘paratrooper’ trousers and British Full Dress colorations combine to make the most powerful, memorable and distinct Star Trek uniform of all iterations; Class, swagger, and dash- the perfect uniform for the command crew of the Enterprise and Starfleet!

  4. I hated the redesigned uniforms for STII and beyond. In the 1968 book “The Making of Star Trek” GR is quoted as saying that clothes (uniforms) in the future would not have zippers, buttons, clips, belts and many of what was ultimately in the design of the “red” uniforms. I wasn’t troubled by the uniforms in ST:The Motion Picture except that they lacked color. In fact, I prefer the original uniform design by William Theiss of the first two seasons of TNG over the Robert Blackman redesigned uniforms for TNG’s remaining seasons. IMHO, William Theiss was a far superior costume designer than Robert Blackman. The actors never liked them because of their one-piece design, but they were tight fitting to the actors body, and were not as “baggy” as the Blackman TNG redesign. Just look at what jumpsuit the space shuttle astronauts wore from the fifth shuttle flight to the flight of Challenger’s destruction. Blue coveralls (seemed like one piece) uniforms with just a open helmet with an emergency air pack. After the Challenger accident NASA went back to using ungainly pressurized space suits, but in the end those wouldn’t have saved the astronauts in the event of another Challenger type disaster nor the demise of shuttle Columbia.

    1. There’s a reason why the actors of TNG preferred the later uniforms, and that was because to create the effect of no wrinkles, the actors would wear costumes that were too small for them, and so the new uniforms were designed, otherwise they’d lose Patrick Stewart because he was having back problems. Same reason why TOS actors preferred the TWOK uniforms over TMP. GR was trying to create a futuristic look, but the problem with his vision of clothing was that he had no idea that functional clothing evolved based on comfort.

  5. I have always hated the ST:WOK uniforms. For all of reasons stated above. The closest thing they’ve come to a merging of the styles was DS9’s uniforms. Which worked for practicality. You’re not gonna sit for eight hours in a ST:WOK uniform without skin chaffing and massively sweating. Not to mention how stiff they’d be in trying to reach across consoles. They were horrible.

  6. I actually liked the design of the TMP uniforms. They were practical and in reality, one can imagine they would have been quick to don and doff. Essential for a duty uniform. Fletcher muted the colours as it was felt the bright colours from the series would have looked comical on the big screen. The idea of the utility jacket with large pockets for away missions made sense, as did Scotty’s onesie with the large thigh pockets for engineering.
    When you look at the TMP design as a progression of the TOS uniforms it seems logical (pun intentional). The STII designs are a complete departure to the design aesthetic.
    They did a lot of weird retrofitting in STII; notably the Communicators and Phasers. In TMP, the Communicator was compact and wrist-worn, and the Phaser was very streamlined. The Communicator that Kirk uses in the Genesis Cave scene looks like the clunky version from The Menagerie/Cage.

    1. You are right on the communicator but I would say in some ways it looked even clunkier than The Cage one (but at least it wasn’t transparent!)

      The Phasers from TWOK were actually the same as TMP though, you can briefly see security with them on the Bridge during the VGR attack and there are behind the scenes photo with either Nimoy or Shatner holding one while wearing a space suit.

  7. What was wrong with the ‘Original’ idea? Lime Green (Command&Operations) Blue (Science & Medical) Red Engineering &Security) MADE Star Trek UNIQUE!
    This is Trek’s TRADEMARK! It’s DIFFERENT! From Battlestar Galactica and any other Sci-Fi series.
    The other Sci-Fi shows generally use a ‘Military’ style idea, which Gene Roddenberry was insisting that the Federation is not a military organisation.
    So, what was/is wrong with the ‘Original’ three colours? Simple, and practical, non- belligerent and Iconic for Star Trek. ” If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”
    For me, it was such a relief when the ‘Three Colours” were brought back for the film re-boots, it proves that it works for the big screen as well as the small.
    I hope that the original creation will prevail!

  8. As a chef, I loved the new uniforms with the flap that could be undone for more casual times. The decision was far better than TMP.

  9. Has always been one of my favorite uniforms. As to the comfort, they seem no more or less comfortable than a chef’s coat, and they work in hot, greasy, humid, kitchens for 10 hours. I doubt the 100% climate and humidity controlled environment of a starship would be an issue, and future fabrics would behave differently. (“It is very *cold* in space!”)

    I think in reality even the senior officers would more frequently wear what the extras wore, the jackets tend to lend an air of dress uniform to it that seems unnecessary for routine operations or training operations. Real world budget restraints aside, there should be a casual variant much like Kirk’s green wraparound tunic he wore in TOS.

  10. Unless I am mistaken, the jackets were for Officer uniforms only. I saw it as a means of identification amongst the crew, same as the rank insignia. Higher ranking officers usually have more “ornate” uniforms, do they not?

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