Why do Starfleet Uniforms Change so Frequently?

One of the most recognizable aspects of Starfleet are their uniforms. Uniforms are important to know what division (Science, Tactical, Engineering, or Command) an officer is a part of and more importantly, what crew they belong to. Outside the universe, the uniforms of Star Trek and their color schemes have been iconic throughout the ages. They are partly what defines Star Trek and makes it recognized throughout the World, but almost ever different Star Trek series has their own uniform styles. Not only that, but they seem to change extremely often. Why?

Example of “The Original Series” era uniforms.

Going back to the The Original Series (TOS), Starfleet used uniforms with Red, Blue, and Gold/Yellow. Combadges did not exist at the time, but every person did have a division insignia and rank. These insignias also seemed to change overall design depending on the location the officer is posted on, whether it’s on a planet, a starship, or a station.

Example of uniforms worn on “Star Trek: Discovery”.

Some uniform changes, compared to others, can be easily explained. One such change was the switch from Discovery to TOS uniforms. The Klingon war would have ended recently and after fighting Control, Starfleet was low on resources and needed to re-establish technological security. One of these ways would have been to simplify the design of their uniforms. Less detail and simplicity requires fewer resources. They also match the more basic design of the starships and stations.

Other changes can’t be explained as easily, in-universe that is. Some series like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had a real-world reason, but a strict in-universe reason for change. Earlier Star Trek movies, like The Motion Picture (TMP), did not explain it. But there is one common thread that can be seen in ever series.

When TMP unveiled a refit U.S.S. Enterprise, it came with new (and unusual) uniforms. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the uniform changed to the iconic red. The new design stayed around for a long time, through many films and even into some of the series, like Star Trek: Voyager3.2 “Flashback” and some video games. Yet, the design never had a definitive, canonical reason for changing. 

Example of the iconic red uniform in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”.

Starfleet uniforms seem to change when new technology and new starships are available to Starfleet. With every new series with a new ship, a new uniform almost always came with it. Starfleet may not have a canonical reason for EVERY change, but they seem to always change it when the overall aesthetic of Starfleet was changing. This means that it is generational. Uniforms seem to change when a new generation is in control and there are new adventures to be had, not because of war or other conflicts.

What are your favorite uniforms? What do you not like about how frequent they change? Let us know on Social Media!