In the past few days, I have noticed a number of Facebook posts where people are confused with Starfleet uniforms. The main issue is where there are two different types of uniform seen in the same episode and as to why this happens. I am going to focus on the TNG era, including TNG, DS9 and VOY.
I’ve answered these posts the best I can, but I’ve come to the conclusion that some people need a visual answer to help them understand, so I’ve attempted to do this with this post.
I’m not going to cover rank insignia and the like, merely the type of uniform seen, and not necessarily who wears it.
Unlike rank, the uniform worn by the main cast has been very consistent once you understand the theory behind why each series has a different uniform other than the real world reason of making each series different from the other.
I’ll explain below that the main reason you may see two different uniforms on screen in the same episode is because Starfleet employed a different style for its shipboard crews and it station bound crews. There is plenty of evidence to support this so keep reading…
Okay, the first instance we see of two types of uniform seen in one episode is at the start of TNG season 3.
Here, demonstrated with the episode “The Defector”, we see the uniform introduced in TNG’s season 1 worn at the same time as the new uniform introduced at the start of season 3.
The Season 1 uniform featured a coloured pinstripe that ran across the shoulders of the wearer, whereas the season 3 uniform omitted this and added a higher collar with a coloured edge. This uniform becomes the standard shipboard and Starfleet Command uniform for the rest of TNG’s run. [Images 1 and 2]
Out of universe, the reason is obviously that the production budget didn’t extend to making new uniforms for the countless extras that would be seen in the background, and occasionally, a guest character.
The in universe reason is as simple as gradually phasing in the new uniform to all crew members. You could argue that this wouldn’t be necessary as the replicator could be used to make uniforms for all the crew at the same time then introduce it all at once, which you’d be entitled to point out. It’s a plausible reason that fits in with the reason above.
The next anomaly is seen in DS9’s opener “Emissary”.
Sisko is onboard the Saratoga during the battle of wolf 359 where he and the crew are wearing the same uniform as the crew of the Enterprise in TNG, and also with his meeting with Picard 3 years later in orbit of Bajor. No issue here, but immediately after his meeting with Picard, Sisko has changed from the black shoulder uniform to one which sports coloured shoulders. What’s happened here? [Images 3 and 4]
Out of universe, DS9 is a brand new series and needed to look apart from what we have seen in TNG, so not only do we have the show based on a station with no starship in sight, the uniform had to change to distinguish it from what’s gone before.
In universe, the reason for the change is that officers and crew aboard Federation space stations and ground facilities wear a different uniform from those officers who work aboard starships and at Starfleet Headquarters.
This will become clear in the following examples.
In the TNG episode “Birthright”, Dr Bashir from Deep Space Nine is onboard the Enterprise, conducting some sort of experiment that gets the attention of Data, where they are both seen on screen. They are wearing different uniforms, Data with his usual black shoulders, as is the rest of the Enterprise crew, and Bashir is wearing the coloured shoulders that is usual of his and the rest of his crewmates back on the station. [Image 5]
This supports the idea of different uniforms for ship and station crews.
The next example also supports this idea, as we see William Riker come aboard DS9 in the episode “Defiant” wearing his usual black shoulder uniform, which stands out from those worn by the stations crew. It is of course William’s duplicate Thomas that boards the station masquerading as the Enterprise’s first officer. [Image 6]
Arguably the best example of the ship/station variant can be seen in the DS9 episode “Homefront” where a Changeling threat sees Sisko recalled to Earth. Before he departs, Sisko can be seen wearing his usual uniform of coloured shoulders, but when he arrives at Starfleet Headquarters he has changed to the black shoulder variant and meets with his old commanding officer Admiral Leyton. It is unclear why at this point he has changed, but during the conversation he has with Leyton, he is given temporary command of Starfleet Security, a post that would require him to change.
Also at the meeting is Commander Benteen, who is also wearing a shipboard uniform. Later we see a bunch of Starfleet officers in various locations all wearing shipboard uniforms, reinforcing the idea that officers based at Starfleet Headquarters also wear these uniforms as standard. [Images 7, 8 9, and 10]
[Note: Benteen was the commanding officer of the USS Lakota, so would be expected to wear a shipboard uniform, the rest of the Starfleet Personnel seen in this episode were based at Headquarters, so reinforces the idea of ship and station/ground uniforms. The only problem here is that “Homefront” is set way after the events in “Generations” (see below) so with this is mind, Benteen and all other Starfleet personnel SHOULD be in DS9 unifrom by now, the timings are a bit off.]
Next up, the one that really gets to people is “Star Trek Generations”, the movie where nobody knows whats going on with the uniforms.
What we see here are the Enterprise crew interchanging between the two types of uniforms all the way through the movie. [Except Worf; more on that later]
Out of universe reasons are pretty embarrassing for a movie, there was not enough money for the entire crew to have custom made uniforms of the type seen on DS9. In fact, Frakes had to wear Brooks’ uniform, which was way too big for him, so much so that Frakes had to roll up the sleeves.
In universe reasons are pretty much as those mentioned earlier with the transition between seasons 1 and 2 to season 3 of the TNG series, the crew were simply phasing in the DS9 uniform. It would seem Starfleet was standardising the uniform so that all personnel regardless of posting wore the same uniform. [Image 11]
The last example in the variant theory is when Worf arrives at DS9 in “The Way Of The Warrior” after the events of “Generations” and the destruction of the Enterprise, although this one doesn’t make much sense. Or does it?
So Sisko asks Starfleet to send over Worf so he can deal with some Klingon problems on the station, he arrives at the airlock and is met by old friend Miles O’Brien. At this meeting Worf is wearing his usual shipboard uniform, Miles his usual staionboard uniform.
If the idea of two different uniforms is correct then why would this be an issue? Well, Worf was onboard the Enterprise while the DS9 uniform was being rolled out, so why didn’t he already have one? It’s been sometime since the Enterprise was destroyed so Worf should have been given a new uniform in the interim no?
Apparently, he was one of those unlucky senior officers that didn’t get a new uniform. Throughout “Generations”, Worf continued to wear his standard shipboard uniform, he was never seen in DS9 variant.
And because he was on extended leave from Starfleet and considering resigning, maybe Starfleet didn’t get around to giving him one.
So during his secondment to DS9 he continued to wear his TNG gold uniform, that is until he decides to stay in Starfleet and accepts a permanent post on DS9 and receives a new uniform, but now, a red one. [Images 12 and 13]
[Note: this still doesn’t answer the question as to why the officers at Starfleet Headquarters and on the USS Lakota are not wearing DS9 style uniforms at this point, it only explains Worf’s circumstances.]
Just to show that Starfleet standardised the uniform to the one seen on DS9, that both ships and stations now wore the same clothing, the crew of the USS Voyager sport the DS9 uniform for it’s entire run. [Image 14]
But that isn’t the end. There is one last example of two different uniform variants seen on screen. In the Voyager episode “Message In A Bottle”, the EMH is sent back to the alpha quadrant through a relay network to the experimental Federation starship Prometheus. The crew of the Prometheus are wearing the uniform that was introduced in “Star Trek First Contact” the one that sports the grey shoulders, the one that was also introduced to DS9 in the season 5 episode “Rapture”.
Because Voyager is far from home, it never knew about this new uniform until this episode. It was seen again numerous times when they were eventually close enough to contact Starfleet on a regular basis but chose to continue with the DS9 uniform right up until the series finale.[Image 15]
We do however see Janeway in the grey shoulders as an admiral in “Star Trek Nemesis” [Image 16]
Well, that’s it, I hope this explains it for all of you that were confused. I just hope I haven’t confused you further.