Producer Harve Bennett surrounded by the Star Trek II cast

Redesigning Starfleet’s Uniforms for Star Trek II

Producer Harve Bennett surrounded by the Star Trek II cast
Producer Harve Bennett surrounded by the Star Trek II cast (Trekcore)

Few of the people involved in the production of the second Star Trek motion picture were happy with the uniforms Robert Fletcher had made for the first film. “I don’t blame them,” Fletcher told Star Trek: The Magazine 3, 5 (September 2002). “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 that William Ware Theiss had first designed for the original television series, was given the task to redesign 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 made for the previous movie by changing the tailoring and the colors. A series of dye tests showed 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.

When Nicholas Meyer joined the production as director, he had some very 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, very significant instruction for Robert Fletcher: he wanted the costumes to be reminiscent of the clothes worn in the Douglas Faribanks Jr. movie The Prisoners of Zenda.

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 into a turtleneck and when he made the alternations Fletcher decided to use trapunto, which is a form of vertical quilting.

Crew uniform design sketch by Robert Fletcher
Crew uniform design sketch by Robert Fletcher (thepropstop)

The new uniforms looked far more like military uniforms 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,” he remembered, “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.”

On the early version of the uniform, the insignia were on a band around the upper arm. This was moved to the cuff. The last major change was to redesign the flap of the double breasted jacket so that it could actually open. This was something Meyer wanted, because he felt the lighter color on the inside of the flap would frame the actors’ faces better.

William Shatner
William Shatner as James Kirk (Paramount publicity photo)

However, the flaps presented Robert Fletcher with a problem. When the flag was open, one could clearly see the snaps that held it in place and, as he said, 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

6 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.

  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!

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