The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3, Episode 5, “Reflections,” now streaming on Paramount+.
Starfleet uniforms are among the most iconic in pop culture, with their distinctive colors of red, gold and blue officially forming part of the franchise’s introduction. Yet, despite being essentially military uniforms, they have undergone an incredible amount of change over the years. All star trek show has a new twist on them, and the franchise’s largely successful efforts to keep them in canon means its characters change uniform styles every few years.
Star Trek: Lower Decks takes a tweak to the trend in season 3, episode 5, “Reflections.” In the process, he admits the reality that star trekThe uniform situation is completely out of control. But he also quietly acknowledges that – far from being a drawback – it’s now part of what makes the franchise so fun.
Like many aspects of star trek, uniforms have evolved – sometimes inelegantly – as part of the natural development of the franchise. The first two pilots of the original series featured muted tunics for their respective crews, which were replaced with the classic “tricolor” designs when the series was picked up. (Both were the product of costume designer Bill Theiss.) The latter were brighter and fit more easily into the show’s colorful aesthetic. They also provided an advantage to the network, which wanted vivid shows as color televisions slowly replaced black-and-white models.
The movies took the uniforms in a drastically different direction. Star Trek: The Movie returned to much more subdued tones, in an effort to match the gritty aesthetic of Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hopewho had opened a few years earlier. These, in turn, were replaced by “the brown monsters” in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan: burgundy uniforms that Kirk and his crew wore for the rest of their adventures on the big screen.
This style was born from the sensibility of director Nicholas Meyer, who explained the change on the Khan’s Wrath Blu Ray. (He wanted Starfleet to look more like a traditional navy akin to the Horatio Hornblower novels.) Star Trek: The Next Generation returned to the tricolor pattern of the original series, which cemented their status as franchise icons and were followed in one form or another by all star trek series since.
Despite this, the need to differentiate one series from another has led to staggering variation in cut and pattern. Starting with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the only thing that remained “uniform” were the three colors and the Starfleet logo communication badges. In other words, it’s a hot mess. And like so much else about the franchise, that’s part of the fun: giving cosplayers increased options, offering rewards and add-ons for games like star trek online and even do their job of being an easy visual reference to mark which particular show is which. The franchise itself has added to the chaos with each new series, even though those changes aren’t usually mentioned by anyone in the world.
Lower decks itself is as guilty as any other show: their uniforms arrived at a time in the world marked by Deep Space Nine “the greys” which are still worn by the show’s higher-ups. The constant variation is the basis of the joke in “Reflections”. Brad Boimler and Beckett Mariner man a Starfleet recruiting booth at a job fair, where they are taunted by other nearby salespeople who despise the fleet. The knocks eventually get to the uniforms – especially the way they constantly change. It’s a step too far for the crossover-ready Boimler, who explodes with rage after one of their tormentors pulls the spike out of his collar.
It’s a fun moment, but Boimler’s sensitivity on the matter suggests a real basis for jabs. It is clear that other characters in the Trek universe have noticed all the changes, and some of them find it decidedly bizarre. This eccentricity is an integral part of star trekwhere even the silliest developments often become beloved traits of the franchise. lower decks, as always, gets a big laugh just by saying the quiet part out loud.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks air Thursdays on Paramount+.