More Science Fact Than Science Fiction: The First Movie Uniforms

William Shatner, DeForest Kelley and Majel Barrett
William Shatner, DeForest Kelley and Majel Barrett on the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (MovieStillsDB)

The Star Trek: The Motion Picture uniforms tend to rank low among fans’ favorites. Their pastel colors didn’t exactly scream excitement. The point was to make them look realistic; more “science fact than science fiction,” as their designer, Robert Fletcher, put it.

Fletcher told Fantastic Films magazine (February 1980, My Star Trek Scrapbook has the whole interview) that he was instructed to make the uniforms “more logical” than the television show’s — “something to give a solid feeling of reality, clothing that people can live and work in efficiently.”

Robert Fletcher
Robert Fletcher

After all, he said, the last thing a female crew member needs in an alert situation is to worry about a run in her pantyhose…

Fletcher said in a separate interview with Starlog (April 1980, also scanned by My Star Trek Scrapbook) that the challenge was making the uniforms looks futuristic without drawing too much attention to them. “That was one thing Robert Wise,” the director, “did not want to happen.”

He wanted the clothes simply to be there, to be accepted, to look logical — to seem real, very real, not phony in any way.


Asked about the variety in uniforms, Fletcher remarked that the army doesn’t have just one type of uniform either.

Captain Kirk, for example, has a Class A, Class B, dress uniform and two types of leisure outfits or fatigues.

Another reason, he told Starlog, was to make scenes visually interesting:

Most of the film takes place inside the Enterprise and the one way to get visual variety is for people to change their clothes.

Field jackets

Star Trek: The Motion Picture introduced special outfits for away missions.

Fletcher told Fantastic Films the field jackets could carry equipment a Starfleet officer might need in his explorations, “leaving his hands free to work — a much more efficient practice than carrying around their tools in their hands like in the old series.”

Engineering suits

James Doohan
Star Trek II publicity photo of James Doohan

He also gave the engineering crew special suits.

“It was only logical,” said Fletcher. “After all, a mechanic doesn’t work in a suit and tie.”

His idea was that Scotty and his staff, working around dangerous materials, would need protection.

They also need tools and devices to work with and places to keep them. I felt those outfits would handle those prerequisites very nicely.


Along with the white medical uniforms, the engineering suits were carried over into Star Trek II. But the main crew uniforms would undergo a drastic transformation.

Many felt Fletcher’s uniforms summed up everything that was disappointing about The Motion Picture: they lacked color and drama. They were bland.

Fletcher told Star Trek: The Magazine years later that, on reflection, he agreed. “I didn’t like them much myself!”

He was given the opportunity to design something more theatrical for The Wrath of Khan.


Unfortunately, I have to agree. I understand the reasoning behind making the the uniforms so unremarkable and bland. It IS logical. But they just came across as little more than monochromatic pyjamas. Had the design incorporated a more vivid color scheme (different colors for different divisions or departments aboard the ship, as in the shirts for TOS and TNG and the turtleneck undershirts used in the rest of the classic movie series), I think they would have fared far better in people’s memories. There are lots of fan art versions of these uniforms out there which show that, with a wider color palette than just beige and grey, they can look pretty darned sharp.

On the positive side, we got those awesome radiation suits for engineering. Also, Kirk’s formal dress admiral’s uniform and his casual white short-sleeved shirt were quite snappy.

Richard Eckman (Aug 19, 2019)

I always loved these uniforms, and the overall look of the film. I can understand why a lot dislike them, but it’s just down to one’s own personal preferences. I thought they were sleek, smart, and somewhat austere. I did like the uniforms for The Wrath of Khan also, but these better suited my own personal preferences.

Alex Hudson (Mar 23, 2020)

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