The later-style TNG jumpsuits were made of jumbo spandex, just like their predecessors were.
Thanks again to the amazing quality of The Next Generation in remastered HD, the actual weave of the jumbo spandex was occasionally visible:
One can also observe the jumbo spandex weave in close-up auction photos of screen-used uniforms:
While seldom visible in the later seasons, one could occasionally see that the spandex had a subtle “sparkle” to it.
As I see it, using jumbo spandex for the later-era TNG jumpsuits made perfect sense for four reasons:
1 – It was consistent with what had been seen in the show for several years at that point.
2 – This allowed the existing, earlier-style jumpsuits to be “converted” into Blackman’s redesigned jumpsuits with as minimal time, effort, money, and headache as reasonably possible.
3 – The costume department probably already had a large amount of this fabric in stock for Starfleet uniforms before Robert Blackman took over as costume designer, allowing them to construct additional jumpsuits as-needed.
4 – Jumbo spandex is significantly less expensive than superfine wool gabardine, which is what was used for the men’s two-piece uniforms.
Consistent aesthetic aside, note that the latter three reasons all indicate an extremely efficient use of resources.
On the other hand, while both jumbo spandex and wool gabardine can look great on-camera, the two fabrics respond to dye differently, and respond to light differently.
Normally, with the show’s bright lighting and saturated colors, any differences between the two were practically unnoticeable – especially when viewed in VHS-level quality on 80s/90s-era televisions!
In remastered HD, however, the subtly different fabric colors were occasionally noticeable, particularly the black uniform areas.
Observe how, in the example below, the black (wool) portions of Commander Riker’s uniform were noticeably darker than the same areas of Dr. Crusher’s (spandex) uniform:
This issue also occasionally manifested with the division colors, as well.
Perhaps the most infamous example of this was Dr. Crusher and Dr. Dalen Quaice walking side-by-side down the corridor, wearing not-quite-matching uniform colors.
Fabric fibers aside, the division colors themselves continually evolved over the course of the show, so occasional color mismatches were perhaps inevitable.
To avoid redundancy, I will be discussing the evolution of the screen-used TNG-era fabric colors (with side-by-side comparisons) in a future blog post.
I suggest subscribing to my “Costume Guide” e-mail newsletter and following me on social media (if you haven’t already) for updates on this, and other new costuming resources.
Another aspect of the jumpsuits Blackman experimented with was the fit, particularly with Dr. Crusher’s uniforms.
Observe how in season three, her back-zipping “hero” jumpsuit was noticeably looser than most had been up to that point – probably to make the uniform more comfortable to wear.
Her uniforms continued to be somewhat loose for the first several episodes of season four.
About a third of the way into season four, her jumpsuits noticeably tightened.
I believe this may have been Blackman’s attempt to address the actors’ objections to the jumpsuits being so uncomfortably tight, by experimenting with a looser fit (similarly to how Theiss had with Captain Picard’s uniforms in season one).
Then, perhaps Gates McFadden acquiesced to the tighter fit? Or her protests were ultimately overruled?
Or perhaps Blackman was using the “frog in boiling water” technique to gradually acclimate her to the tight-fitting uniform again?
Regardless, from then onward, her jumpsuits appear to have been as tight as ever.
Here’s a comparison between Dr. Crusher’s baggier season three uniform, and her tighter one from season four:
Once Counselor Troi began wearing the standard jumpsuit uniform partway through season six, hers was very tight as well.
As to why the men switched to more comfortable, forgiving two-piece wool uniforms while the ladies continued wearing skintight spandex jumpsuits, we can only guess.
In The Continuing Mission (Star Trek: The Next Generation), writers Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens attribute this uniform dichotomy to 20th-century sexism, but in Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier, Blackman said the women actually preferred the jumpsuit to the two-piece uniforms (although no reason was given) …
I would point out, though, that while the ladies’ uniforms were undeniably tight …
… the jumpsuits male supporting characters and extras wore were just as tight.
Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we asked multiple involved in the production (producers, actors, Blackman and members of the wardrobe department, etc.) and received multiple conflicting answers about this topic.
So … indiscriminate objectification?
Sexism, balanced by reverse-sexism?
Inadvertent sexism, as a result of pragmatism?
Audience-projected sexism, or interpreting sexism where there was none intended?
A wardrobe paradigm strictly the result of budgeting restrictions?
Or a non-issue we are simply thinking too hard about?
You decide! 🙂
Jumpsuit Fabric Grain
Like their predecessors, it seems the overwhelming majority of the later-style TNG jumpsuits were cut with the spandex stretching vertically, rather than horizontally around the wearer’s body.
Since many of the initial later-style jumpsuits were probably upgraded from the original uniforms (inherited from the first couple seasons), this does make sense.
(See the auction photos above for examples of the spandex weave direction.)
Here’s detail photo of the male extra’s TNG jumpsuit I studied, in which the jumbo spandex “weave” is visible:
The back-zipping “hero” jumpsuits were a different story, though …
As best I’ve been able to determine, the majority of those were also cut with the fabric oriented this way. (Again, see the screencaps and auction photos above.)
Furthermore, here are some close-up auction photos of various screen-used TNG jumpsuits, in which the jumbo spandex “weave” is clearly horizontal:
Note that Tasha Yar’s uniform from “Yesterday’s Enterprise” was also cut with the grain in this direction.
That said, at least some of the later-style TNG jumpsuits were cut on the opposite grain – with the stretch going around the wearer’s body (rather than vertically), and the jumbo spandex “weave” vertical.
Here are some detail photos of the Ensign Sito TNG jumpsuit I examined, in which the grain is clearly visible:
Here is a screen-used Dr. Crusher stunt uniform, which was similarly cut (observe the vertical “weave”):
To add further variety, here are a few “hero” TNG jumpsuits that were cut with the yokes on the straight grain (jumbo spandex “weave” horizontal), but the body and sleeves on the crossgrain (“weave” vertical)!
I will point out, though, that this last Counselor Troi example was from the Enterprise finale (“These Are the Voyages …”), but we don’t talk about that …
The sleeve grain directions varied as well, but we’ll discuss those later, when we specifically examine the sleeves.