As a preface to my updated TNG costuming resources and my upcoming TWOK-era uniform projects, I thought it would be neat to examine what we know of the “The Lost Era” uniform timeline, from the TOS-era movies to TNG.
I’ll be discussing the evolution of the TWOK-era uniforms in my upcoming TWOK-era costume analyses, so for now I’ll only be mentioning uniform changes that I believe pertain to “The Lost Era” and TNG-era uniforms.
Also, for this discussion I’ll be confining my observations to (what I believe were) intentional creative decisions, NOT errors, omissions, or “goofs.”
In canon – that is, only taking into consideration what was actually seen on-screen during the film/TV franchise – it’s not clear when exactly William Ware Theiss’ TNG-era uniforms became the standard uniforms for Starfleet.
All we really know for sure is that it seems to have been during “The Lost Era” between the launch of the Enterprise B (as seen in Generations) and “Encounter at Farpoint” (as seen in The Next Generation).
How and when the transition between the TWOK-era uniforms and the TNG-era uniforms took place is a vague issue that’s prompted considerable speculation over the years.
Was there another uniform style at some point in the meantime?
Were the TNG-era uniforms phased in slowly, or were they implemented all at once?
After the heavily-structured, naval, even militaristic TWOK-era uniforms, at what point did skin-tight spandex jumpsuits and unisex mini-dresses become the new standard for Starfleet?
The unenviable task of dealing with these questions in a way that would make sense – both chronologically (in-universe), and to the audience (visually) – first fell to William Ware Theiss, as The Next Generation’s initial costume designer.
WILLIAM WARE THEISS' APPROACH
Prior to the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation, William Ware Theiss had also been the costume designer for Star Trek: The Original Series and the aborted Star Trek: Phase II.
Between Phase II’s abandonment and The Next Generation’s launch, however, there had been four feature films with the original cast, for which Robert Fletcher was costume designer and Gene Roddenberry had had limited involvement.
These films featured different Starfleet uniforms and numerous classes/variations, many of which are loved by fans (particularly the “Monster Maroons”), but none of which bore much resemblance to any of Theiss’ costume designs for The Original Series.
After the success of these films, the spinoff TV series was green-lit with Gene Roddenberry “restored to power” as a showrunner, who recruited Theiss to be the costume designer for TNG.
Roddenberry is said to have been unhappy with certain aspects of the films, including what he saw as the militarization of Starfleet, which was also reflected in the movie-era uniforms.
I suspect that one reason the TNG-era uniforms were so drastically different from their TWOK-era predecessors was an attempt by Roddenberry to visually distance – or even disassociate – The Next Generation from the TOS-era movies as far as possible.
Furthermore, Theiss’ approach to designing the costumes for the new series seems to have simply been to “pick up where he left off,” perhaps acknowledging superficial aspects of Robert Fletcher’s movie-era uniforms but mostly just ignoring them.
Theiss favored knit fabrics and unstructured uniforms toward the end of TOS, Fletcher favored heavily-structured wool uniforms for ST2 through ST4, and then Theiss designed unstructured spandex uniforms for TNG.
Theiss established three division colors in TOS, Fletcher introduced more and changed their associations, and Theiss returned to the three division colors for TNG.
… etc., etc.
It is my personal belief that Theiss may have felt slighted by Fletcher’s radically-different uniform designs and, after Phase II never made it off the ground, the success of the movies was salt in his wound …
In Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier, Theiss is quoted saying, “Bob Fletcher is a very fine designer, and I mean that sincerely – but we don’t design the same way, and there’s no reason we should. Apples and oranges. My personal feeling is, if you go to a structured, woven fabric, and use the kind of tailoring and structuring he’s done, it puts those costumes back, historically, five hundred years, with shoulder seams and shoulder pads of that type.”
But regardless of the personal feelings of anyone involved or the creative direction from The Powers That Be, Theiss’ approach to “The Lost Era” uniform transition appears to have basically been, “Ignore the TOS movie uniforms and pretend they never happened!”
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that, right from the beginning of The Next Generation‘s pilot, everyone was already wearing Theiss’ TNG-era uniforms.
The characters on Farpoint Station waiting for the Enterprise to arrive were already in uniform, as well.
(It wasn’t like the Deep Space Nine pilot in that regard, when the show’s cast members were first introduced wearing the existing TNG-style uniforms and gradually switched over to the new VOY-style uniforms over the course of the episode.)
The only (other) instance in which Theiss had to address the uniform transition was about a third of the way through The Next Generation‘s first season, in the episode “The Battle.”
During the episode, Captain Picard mentally relived the events from 2355, which was approximately eight years prior to the episode.
By now, it shouldn’t be surprising that for these flashback events, Theiss dressed the former Stargazer crew in his TNG-era uniforms.
Considering Theiss’ apparent attitude AND the fact that this was ultimately just a mental hallucination inflicted by an illegal telepathic device (with malicious intent), I believe it worthy of mention here … but ONLY as a possible example of the Starfleet uniform timeline, not necessarily a factual one.
That said, in The Next Generation’s pilot, Theiss DID dress Admiral McCoy in trousers reminiscent of those from the TWOK-era …
I believe this to have been intended to represent the character as a sort of relic and/or “living legend” from generations prior.
Curiously, for the original wardrobe/make-up tests (as seen on The Next Generation season 1 Blu-Ray set), McCoy was dressed in a variation of his TWOK-era “monster maroon” uniform.
Note the TNG-era communicator, and the lack of the right shoulder strap.
This may have been done purely for convenience, since Deforest Kelley would’ve probably had several uniforms readily-available from the first four TOS movies, or perhaps Theiss’ TNG-era uniforms weren’t quite ready yet.
It could have simply been an experiment, an abandoned creative direction, or any number of other possibilities.
In any event, it never made it on-screen (in-universe), so it technically “doesn’t count.”
I mention it here because it may have been a source of creative inspiration for Robert Blackman, costume designer on The Next Generation from the third season forward.
ROBERT BLACKMAN'S APPROACH
Whereas William Ware Theiss had created this issue and then more or less ignored it (Gene Roddenberry’s potential directions notwithstanding), Robert Blackman inherited it by default when he came on board the show in season three … and he had to contend with it several times over the remainder of the franchise.
(Durinda Rice Wood was costume designer for TNG’s second season, although the issue of the uniform transition never arose that production year.)
Blackman’s strategy for addressing the uniform transition – aside from actually acknowledging it, of course! – appears to have been to “bridge the gap” between the two uniform styles by gradually transforming the TWOK-era uniforms into the TNG-era ones to the best of his ability.
He had numerous opportunities to present various stages of the transition, as he seemingly envisioned it.
Robert Fletcher’s TWOK-era uniforms and William Ware Theiss’ TNG-style uniforms were so radically different, transforming the former into the latter was certainly no easy task – probably not even practical to even attempt, but Blackman certainly did the best he could, considering the situation he inherited!
Some fans have criticized various errors and faux-pas with the TWOK-era uniforms seen during Blackman’s tenure, but personally I’m inclined to overlook most of them considering the incredible difficulty of his position.
Blackman inherited a wardrobe full of notoriously uncomfortable uniforms which needed to be redesigned and upgraded, in a way that stayed true to the essence of their original design while still being new, different, and more comfortable for the cast.
In addition to the monumental task of upgrading an entire production’s worth of uniforms AND introducing a whole line of new ones, he also had to continually crank out costumes for the guest stars and “aliens of the week.”
Whenever a flashback/time-travel/etc. scenario showed up in the script, Blackman would probably have had a week or less to make it all happen, with all the other stuff going on as well!
Fletcher’s TWOK-era uniforms were probably the most intricately-detailed costumes in the franchise, particularly regarding all the various accessories, trinkets, accents, detailing, positioning of the various components
Dedicated fans study for weeks, months, or even years trying to wrap their brains around Fletcher’s uniforms, often with the intention of getting their own, personal costume “just right.”
But Blackman would have a fraction of that time AND would nearly always have to address the issue of the uniform transition, each time never knowing if or when the writers would revisit “The Lost Era,” or during what specific window any future visit(s) would be set.
In short, Blackman had to incorporate the work of five (!) other costume designers into the show, carrying their legacies forward while cleaning up other peoples’ messes AND making his own creative contributions, under weekly deadlines.
With that in mind, I’ll outline what we do know about the Starfleet uniform timeline here, in approximate chronological “stardate order” – that is, the order that events took place in-universe, although the actual episodes/movies referenced were in a different production order.
Unsurprisingly, the TWOK-era uniforms were in full-swing in 2278, approximately 85 years prior to “Encounter at Farpoint,” as evidenced by the crew of the Bozeman.
Interestingly, that actually predates the events depicted in The Wrath of Khan by several years, making this the earliest example of the TWOK-era uniforms seen in-universe!
As mentioned previously, the TWOK-era uniforms were still in style at the time of the Enterprise B’s launch in 2293, approximately 71 years prior to “Encounter at Farpoint.”
The following year, 2294, Scotty was aboard the Jenolen when it crashed onto the Dyson Sphere.
He and one other person survived the crash, and he rigged the transporter to preserve them indefinitely until they were rescued.
When the TNG crew discovered the crashed ship and completed the transporter cycle, we saw that Scotty was still wearing the more casual class (or variant) of his movie-era uniform, like he’d worn for most of the final three original movies.
Since he wound up being the sole survivor of the crash, we don’t know what the other Starfleet passengers or crew was wearing, but I think it’s safe to assume they were still wearing the movie-era uniforms at that point.
And I find it interesting that after his wounds were treated and he’d cleaned up, he continued to wear this uniform style for the rest of the episode.
He didn’t seem to feel the need to switch to the present-day Starfleet uniform, nor did any of the Enterprise crew seem at all inclined to make an issue of it.
It made sense for the characters, but I also think it was a great creative choice for two reasons:
First, our most recent (and perhaps strongest) visual association with Scotty by this point was like this; sticking him in the TNG-era uniform would’ve seemed disrespectful somehow.
And second, it was a great visual representation of Scotty’s situation and what his character was dealing with in this episode; he was a man out of time, a relic of the past who wanted so badly to be useful in a world of new engineering and technology that was beyond him.
Aaaand that’s where things start to get a little hazy …
In 2327, approximately 36 years prior to “Encounter at Farpoint” and shortly after Jean-Luc Picard graduated from Starfleet Academy, the TWOK-era uniforms were still in use.
However, the quilted turtleneck-style division shirts had been replaced with what appeared to be a plain, T-shirt style division shirt underneath.
In 2343, approximately 20 years prior to “Encounter at Farpoint,” the TWOK-era uniforms were still worn in this manner, as evidenced by the memory of Ian Troi that Deanna experienced inside of Lwaxana’s mind during their telepathic connection.
It IS worth noting that this telepathic projection may not have been Ian Troi as he appeared at the time of his death in 2343, but possibly Deanna’s memory of him sometime prior to that year.
Around that time, major changes seem to have been made to the TWOK-era Starfleet uniforms.
By 2344, approximately 19 years prior to “Encounter at Farpoint,” the TWOK-era uniforms were still worn by Starfleet crew, but the undershirts had been eliminated entirely, as had the belts.
Curiously, though, the uniforms worn by the enlisted crew members were still worn with belts …
A few years later, around 2348 (approximately 15 years prior to “Encounter at Farpoint”), the TWOK-era Starfleet insignia pin worn on the left chest had been replaced with the TNG-era communicator, as evidenced by the hologram Jack Crusher made for Wesley shortly after his birth.
It also looks like the division stripes running down the trousers’ pant legs may have been removed, but it’s difficult to tell for sure …
Chronologically and in-universe, that was the last time that any variation of the TWOK-era uniforms were ever seen on-screen.
As a side note, a minor modification Blackman made to nearly all of the aforementioned “Lost Era” TWOK uniforms was to replace the gold trim on the left sleeve band with red.
In-universe, this trend may have begun as early as 2293 (albeit intermittently), considering these Demora Sulu and actor Tim Russ’ costumes from Generations:
However, at that point it definitely wasn’t a universal change.
If one wanted to, I suppose one could make a case that, in-universe, the “red trim” thing only kicked in with younger and/or junior officers at that point … but I really just think it was one of the (many) confusing ways that Generations fumbled.
On the other hand, Generations did give Blackman the opportunity to further nudge the TWOK-era uniforms toward their TNG-era successors with Captain Kirk’s vest.
This was a great way to suggest the beginnings of a uniform transition, and as a crossover/“passing-the-torch” movie the context was perfect!
Considering the beginning and ending, that’s about as fluid a uniform transformation as could be reasonably expected, short of whipping up some transitional skin-tight, spandex, jumpsuit-style “monster maroon” uniforms …
Good call, Mr. Blackman!
Opinions vary regarding the aesthetic appeal of Blackman’s transitional “Lost Era” uniforms and quite a few logistical errors were made over the years, but I think he made a great creative decision to approach the issue the way he did, and I don’t think anyone could’ve done a better job reconciling two radically different uniform styles.
By the time of Jack Crusher’s death in 2353 (approximately 10 years prior to “Encounter at Farpoint”), it appears that Theiss’ TNG-era uniforms had become the standard, as evidenced by Beverly Crusher’s flashback of herself and Captain Picard going to view Jack Crusher’s body at what appeared to be a morgue.
As mentioned previously, as of 2355 (approximately 8 years prior to “Encounter at Farpoint”), Starfleet crew seem to have donned Theiss’ TNG-era uniforms, as evidenced by Captain Picard’s hallucinatory recollection.
I find this is somewhat curious, though, since the Stargazer appeared to be a TOS movie-era ship …
In fact, the bridge of the Stargazer looked eerily familiar …
On the other hand, consistency in Starfleet ship design makes sense, and they often built these ships to last!
We know of numerous starships that were in service for decades, perhaps most famously the Excelsior-class.
And in the episode “Relics,” Geordi even told Scotty that the Jenolen – a ship over eighty years old – might’ve still been in service if it weren’t so banged up.
(And I’m sure that the existence of the TOS movie-era sets at the time of The Next Generation had absolutely nothing to do with any of this …)
A few years later, in 2358 (approximately 5 years prior to “Encounter at Farpoint”), Blackman wedged in this curious variation of a Starfleet admiral uniform …
It appeared to be a stylistic hybrid of both the TWOK-era and TNG-era uniforms, albeit with the Voyager-era communicator – whoops!
Again though, all three of the previous examples I mentioned were telepathically-induced recollections/hallucinations/impersonations, forcibly imposed by malicious aliens, so their reliability as evidence is questionable for our purposes.
However, they do seem to lend a certain amount of credence to each other.
Even if we disregard all three of the previous examples, though, Theiss’ TNG-era Starfleet uniforms had still at least appeared by 2353, as evidenced by the photo of Jeremiah Rossa’s parents.
This seems to validate the Starfleet uniform timeline, as seen in the aforementioned visions/hallucinations/recollections/etc.
There were three additional examples prior to “Encounter at Farpoint” during which we saw Theiss’ TNG-era uniforms being worn by Starfleet crew.
The first was in the Victory‘s away team sensor logs, about a year before “Encounter at Farpoint,” during which Geordi La Forge was still a junior officer on an away mission with several other crew members, all of whom donned Theiss’ TNG-era uniforms.
The second was Lieutenant “Thomas” Riker, the transporter clone of “William” Riker from perhaps a year or so prior to “Encounter at Farpoint.”
Curiously though, while his uniform was obviously the Theiss-style, it was an unusual variant in two ways:
First, it was a jacket, rather than a jumpsuit.
And second, it appears to have been made from wool gabardine, as Blackman’s TNG-era uniform jackets were, rather than the appropriate jumbo spandex. It was also lined.
And lastly, in The Next Generation‘s final episode, we saw that at the time of the Enterprise D’s launch, all the crew members were already in Theiss’ TNG-era Starfleet uniforms (again, unlike the Deep Space Nine pilot, in which the cast was introduced in one uniform style then changing to the new one).
I have the greatest respect for Robert Fletcher, William Ware Theiss, and Robert Blackman as costume designers … even if their artistic visions for future Starfleet uniforms were radically different. 🙂
I think they all three did fantastic work on the franchise, and assuming my outsider’s perspective is reasonably accurate, I understand why they each made the decisions they did while making their respective contributions.
Personally, I think Robert Blackman chose the best approach to address “The Lost Era” uniform transition, and I believe he did as good a job as could possibly have been done – particularly under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
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