To say The Next Generation‘s creative team struggled in its early few years would be putting it mildly.
Gene Roddenberry was notoriously difficult to work under, and the “writer’s room” was like a revolving door.
Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar) had left the show partially through the first season.
Neither Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) or William Ware Theiss returned for season two.
Neither Diana Muldaur (Dr. Pulaski) or Maurice Hurley returned for the third season – and neither did Durinda Rice Wood.
Fortunately, The Next Generation finally began to find its footing in the third season, with the entrance of Ira Steven Behr (who would later co-create Deep Space Nine with Rick Berman) and Michael Pillar (who would later co-create Voyager, again with Rick Berman).
Robert Blackman also joined the creative team as The Next Generation‘s new costume designer – a position he would retain for the remainder of the show. He would also go on to be the costume designer on Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and handle the Starfleet uniforms in The Next Generation‘s four feature films.
As the new costume designer, Blackman immediately entered a difficult situation; not only were the reins for the show being passed around, but the early TNG uniforms were notoriously uncomfortable for the cast.
Blackman basically inherited a wardrobe full of costumes he couldn’t use and was tasked with redesigning them, staying true to the aesthetic established by William Ware Theiss while simultaneously creating something new, different, and more comfortable.
Here we’ll look at the gradual transformation of the TNG jumpsuits over the course of season three, after which we’ll take a more thorough look at the later-style TNG jumpsuits as primarily seen from season four onward.
Naturally, Blackman’s immediate priority was redesigning the uniforms for the main cast members.
Interestingly, his initial redesign of the TNG uniforms was actually a two-piece variant only seen throughout the first several episodes of season three – including for Dr. Crusher, who had rejoined the cast.
After the first half-dozen episodes, though, Dr. Crusher switched to an “upgraded” jumpsuit – the first of its kind seen in the show.
This redesigned jumpsuit was stylistically similar to its predecessor (including its front zipper closure), but with a few minor changes to make it more analogous to Blackman’s season three aesthetic.
The most notable changes included the addition of a mandarin-style collar, and the removal of the division-colored neckline/yoke/pants trim.
She wore the front-zipping jumpsuit for a few episodes, but Blackman again modified the jumpsuit by moving the zipper to the back, producing a cleaner look like that seen on the men’s two-piece wool uniforms he’d just introduced.
He seems to have finally been satisfied with this overall style, since Dr. Crusher wore this back-zipping jumpsuit (which I refer to as the “hero” jumpsuit) for the remainder of the season – and indeed, the remainder of the show.
With Blackman’s immediate attention having been primarily on the main cast uniforms and the “aliens of the week,” the extras/background performers continued to wear the existing (early-style) TNG jumpsuits throughout season three.
The Powers That Be weren’t shy about prominently showing both the early TNG jumpsuits and Blackman’s redesigned uniforms in the same shot that season, either – even if was by necessity.
Along the way, there were several notable developments.
About two-thirds of the way into the season, the episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise” featured the return of Tasha Yar in an alternate timeline, and she wore a new back-zipping TNG jumpsuit that was made specifically for that episode – the first of these we’d seen since the introduction of Dr. Crusher’s several episodes prior.
(We’ll take a closer look at this specific uniform variant in part 4.)
In the next episode we saw another “updated” front-zipping TNG jumpsuit, but I believe this may have been one of Dr. Crusher’s uniforms from earlier in the season repurposed for Lal’s teacher:
Toward the end of the season, there were a several more interesting developments and transitional experiments.
I believe at this point Blackman was finally satisfied with his redesigned uniforms for the main cast, and he’d begun turning his attention to if and how the existing jumpsuits from the first two seasons might have been salvageable.
In the episode “Sarek” was this lady’s uniform, which had both the later-style mandarin collar and earlier-style yoke piping, as well as the lower front pant leg trim. (It appears to have been an older uniform with the collar added, and no other changes made.)
The penultimate episode of the season had three points of interest regarding the TNG jumpsuits.
Up to this point, back-zipping TNG jumpsuits had been exclusively worn by Dr. Crusher and Tasha Yar, but “Transfigurations” featured the first back-zipping jumpsuit that wasn’t for a main character (or returning main character):
It’s possible this was another recycled Dr. Crusher uniform, but this far along (and considering the following two examples) it may have been newly-made for this specific episode/character.
Also that episode, we saw the first men’s “updated” TNG jumpsuit – presumably a modified earlier uniform – on the helmsman.
There was one other transitional variant that episode: what appeared to be another modified early jumpsuit, with the entire yoke replaced (incorporating the new collar) but with the division-colored pant leg trim remaining.
I believe this was another attempt by Blackman & co. to determine if the existing earlier jumpsuits could be “salvaged,” and if so, what exactly that would entail – in this case, replacing the yoke entirely but leaving the pant legs as they were.
Somewhat amusingly, in the shot above there were four distinctly different uniform styles seen simultaneously!
Geordi and Worf were wearing the wool two-piece uniforms, Dr. Crusher wore her back-zipping “hero” jumpsuit, the aforementioned extra was wearing the partially-modified transitional variant, and the other extra was wearing an older (unmodified) jumpsuit.
The season three finale introduced Lieutenant Commander Shelby, who wore a back-zipping “hero” jumpsuit like Dr. Crusher’s.
It seems that by the end of the season, Blackman & co. were satisfied with the result of modified older jumpsuits, since another made its appearance in that episode.
Even though redesigned TNG jumpsuits had been slowly trickling in over the course of season three (and particularly the last few episodes of the season), these were still essentially prototypes at that point; older uniforms continued to be used throughout those episodes as well.
Blackman & co. had determined a viable way to salvage the existing older uniforms, and a satisfactory means of modifying them … but implementing these changes across the board was a massive undertaking that wouldn’t be fully realized until the following season.
Right from the beginning of season four, the extras all wore Blackman’s redesigned, later-style jumpsuits.
Although Counselor Troi wore her own casual uniform variants throughout season three, she did appear in-uniform in the hypothetical alternate future (?) of the season four episode, “Future Imperfect” – also wearing a back-zipping TNG jumpsuit like Dr. Crusher’s.
At this point, a loose paradigm was established that male cast members (and prominent guest stars, such as Lieutenant Barclay) would typically wear the two-piece wool uniforms, and female cast members (and prominent guest stars, such as Commander Shelby) would usually wear the back-zipping “hero” jumpsuits, while extras would wear updated older (front-zipping) jumpsuits.
This reserved newly-made uniforms for main cast members and prominent guest stars, and having successfully updated so many of the older uniforms, Blackman and his team again had a viable wardrobe available for extras that didn’t “clash” with his redesigned uniforms for the main cast.
Although almost certainly not intended to do so, the scene near the end of The Next Generation‘s fourth season finale when Worf disembarked served to visually represent the completed TNG uniform jumpsuit transition; the dozens of extras lining the corridor, all wearing the later-era TNG jumpsuits, signified that Robert Blackman and his costume department had (again) successfully accomplished a monumental undertaking!
Now that we’ve discussed the season three uniform transition in relation to the TNG jumpsuits, we’ll take a detailed look at these later-style uniforms, as redesigned by Robert Blackman.