How to Read The Secret Language of Starfleet Uniforms

If you want to celebrate Star Trek’s 50th anniversary with a Starfleet Halloween costume, go for it! But if you’re attending a party with die-hard Trek fans, you better be accurate. When Star Trek debuted in 1966, Gene Roddenberry color-coded Starfleet uniforms to indicate service divisions, and added gold braid to denote rank. However, he did not know how long the series would last and how many new iterations would follow. Besides, the production had a very skimpy budget. Starfleet uniforms evolved over the years as Star Trek went to movies and several more modern TV series. And some of the uniform innovations didn’t go over well.

The Star Trek movies that followed the cancellation of the original series, threw most of the original coloring schemes out the window for a cleaner look, which is surprisingly harder to read. In 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture (which takes place in the mid-2270s), the bright colors were done away with and replaced with white, grey, and beige uniforms.

Here, a person’s position could be determined by the color of the ring behind the Starfleet insignia on their breast. A white ring was used for command, orange and green were used for the science divisions, and red, gold, and grey were used for operations. Rank was now worn on either the sleeve and/or on a shoulder tab. Thankfully, these creamy jumpsuits didn’t last long.

By 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Starfleet (and the film’s production department) had adopted an even more standardized and militaristic look. Taking place around the late-2270s, the second film introduced a standard maroon color that was worn by all officers in jumpsuit and jacket styles.

As Star Trek movies and series proliferated, writers and producers tried to streamline the color-coding and ranks, but time-travel plots further complicated the overall fashion scheme. You can catch up and get an idea of how Starfleet uniforms work in a rundown at Atlas Obscura. 

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