Over the decades of its existence, Star Trek has gone through many changes. It’s been cancelled, resurrected at the cinema, branched out into new periods, seen a host of writers, actors, and crew put their stamp on the show. The ships have changed, as have the faces, and so too have the uniforms.
However, I don’t think there’s been a more drastic change in the look – and therefore the feel – of Star Trek, than was introduced with one particular uniform. I’m talking about the Monster Maroon, the double-breasted, military cut uniform that made its first appearance in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and lasted through six more films (if you count Generations), and even showed up a few times Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I’ve got to say up front: I LOVE this uniform. I have one that a friend had hand-made for me as a birthday present, about 20 years ago. More than any other uniform in the series – and I’ve worn them all, but for the jumpsuits in Enterprise – this one evokes the strongest sense of being transported onto the bridge of a starship. Its cut is trim and severe, but there’s a wealth of detail. It is expressive, too. Unbuttoning that front flap (as Kirk does when he is inspecting the wounded after Khan’s attack) can convey a wealth of emotional cues. There’s a huge array of attendant decoration, from rank badges, to service badges, security devices and more.
Holy crap, I love that uniform.
But, coming after the subdued, pastel colours of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the division-based uniforms of the Original Series itself – it was a shock. Suddenly, everyone looks, well… more uniform. Service division is now represented by the undershirt, and it’s actually a very subtle difference. But that bold sameness signaled not only a change of fashion, but of intent, both on and off-screen.
The film’s director, Nicholas Meyer, specifically wanted a more military, more Hornblower-esque feel for the film. The uniform is a part of that, as is much of the dialogue. Then, there’s also the tension between scientists and Starfleet, which suggests a growing distrust between civilians and an apparently ever-more militarised fleet. The ultimate expression of this, I’ve always thought, is the line from The Undiscovered Country, where an officer wonders out loud if peace with the Klingons means “the moth-balling of Starfleet”.
Roddenberry, and many subsequent writers and show-runners, always stressed the non-military mission of Starfleet, but with the appearance of the Monster Maroon, we see Starfleet change. Obviously, the Klingons are being more active – the presence of a command test that involves a Klingon ambush is rather suggestive (so where are the Organians?) – so maybe, as we see in Axanar, Starfleet is being pushed to the wall again. And perhaps, as we see in The Undiscovered Country, there are other, more internal elements at play – individuals who want to see a more prominent, more pro-active Starfleet.
Obviously, over the decades between the Khitomer conference, and the 2360s, things change – slowly – back. The Monster Maroon itself changes, albeit slowly. The undershirt disappears, making the uniform look a little less stifling. Then the Starfleet badge itself changes, to the familiar oval-and-ensign design of TNG. I can only imagine there’s likely a couple of unseen steps between what we see Rachel Garret wearing, and the uniforms of Encounter at Farpoint, too – but that’s pure conjecture.
But by the time we do get to that point, we’re almost back at the design we see in The Motion Picture – form-fitting, single-piece uniforms. They are much more bold, but still feature a very obvious division colour. Decoration is the Starfleet badge – now a communicator – and rank pips. It’s very severe, but this is a Starfleet that has gone back to a science/exploration first mindset.
And what’s wonderful, is that you get all of that just from the uniform designs of Robert Fletcher, who worked on Star Trek from The Motion Picture onwards up to The Voyage Home.
Bless that man.
Join the discussion 6 Comments
The Monster Maroon was indeed the best looking and most impressive of all Star Trek uniforms. Movie budgets generally allow for more detailed and more expensive costumes and I was delighted to finally see a real uniform when Wrath of Khan came out.
Well put. Sadly, once Roddenberry was gone, militarism arose again. In Enterprise, there’s even a military crew on board. All part of the war fever mode that the powers that be seem to push whenever they want our society to go fight and kill without thinking. But, whatever the changes in ST, the original ideals are still there. And this essay of yours is brilliant in tying those ideals to clothing.
Have to agree, the ST2-6 uniforms were the absolute best ever! Sharp, crisp jackets with colored stripes down the pants legs that also showed division, they demonstrated a Starfleet that was serious and ready to take on the galaxy when necessary.
The ST2-6 uniform was always my favorite.
Explorers or not, Starfleet needed a more professional, “we are the Fleet” look, and this was it.
It also doesn’t hurt that I am a Navy veteran, and historian,
I agree with everything here. The maroon uniform was fantastic. Not only was the uniform that the officers wore was great, but I also liked how the enlisted crew wore specialist uniforms also that indicated their specialist job positions on the ship. Nick Meyer wanted Starfleet to feel more naval like or “Hornblower style” because that is what he imagined Starfleet to be. I also think it made sense anyway since the Federation was in a cold war with the Klingon and Romulan Empires anyway. Starfleet’s mission was to explore the vastness of space, but they also had to have a huge fleet and the apparatus to defend the Federation. I also like the gray uniforms introduced Star Trek: First Contact. Starfleet was clearly becoming more military oriented again with the Borg incursions and the Dominion War.
The “old” Trek had a bit of a weary old “Service” feel to it. The United States Marines had their glorified “Dress” uniforms and still do.. but for everyday.. and the more practical business of daily activities.. a regular daily uniform was needed.
I think it was the British Naval tradition that took on the “let the mode of dress suit the duty..” so servicemen in the South Pacific might wear vastly different uniforms to that of an officer stationed in London or Bombay.
Star Trek and by extention Star Fleet was to represent an “everyday” Service that people recongnized, knew and respected.. even depended upon to courier ambassadors, messages.. medical supplies.. even normal resupplies for far flung outposts. That the uniforms could vary and “should” vary by posting and duty should be expected and make the Star Trek world seem “realer” and more layered and textured. One suit to serve them all.. is a bit like “Let Them Eat Cake.. all of the time”.
I always thought the “singular” uniforms on Next Generation made the service more “2D” and cheaper looking than the varied and shuffling uniforms of the TOS. It may have not been by design.. and more a result of budgeting.. but that creative recycling in teh wardrobe department also reflected real life in the real services we know.. more accurately.