Starfleet has had several uniform designs in over 55 years of Star Trek. And we mean several. It’s wild how often Starfleet changes tailors. But while some uniforms have been fashion-forward, others… not so much. Here, we rank all the main Starfleet uniforms seen in the franchise thus far. We are skipping Alt-timeline uniforms, except for the J.J. Abrams Kelvin universe, since it made prominent appearances. And we skipped ones with very brief screen time, such as the U.S.S. Kelvin crew uniforms. So, let’s set phasers to stunning, and talk about some future fashion, ranking from best to worst.
1. Wrath of Khan through Generations (1982-1994)
Costume designer Robert Fletcher designed some of the worst Starfleet uniforms ever for 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Luckily, he got a “do-over” for The Wrath of Khan in 1982, and the subsequent five films. These uniforms are the crème de la crème of Trek wear. Yes, unlike most Starfleet uniforms on this list, they are only one color, maroon. But their design recalls 19th-century nautical uniforms, and so they just look so very regal. Officers must have loved these, because as TNG flashbacks showed us, they stayed in circulation for over fifty years.
2. The Next Generation, Seasons 3-7 (1989-1994)
These are the uniforms most think of when they think of TNG. After seasons one and two costumes were retired (we’ll get into why later), designer Robert Blackman came up with new yet similar uniforms for TNG year three. These had the same color designs as the earlier seasons, but were two-piece jackets and pants combos, and now with a more dignified collar instead of a V-neck. There is something about these that are just simple and classy, and there’s a reason they have remained iconic. Maybe it’s also because we always loved when Jean-Luc pulled down on his shirt in a huff.
3. Picard, Seasons 2-3 (2022-2023)
These first appeared in season two of Picard, and feature prominently in season three. Why do we love these so much? They take the color combo and general aesthetic of the Deep Space Nine/Voyager uniforms, but add the details and front “open flap” of the ‘80s movie uniforms. And it just all works. We kind of wish the black was on the shoulders instead, but hey, it’s ok. These new uniforms rock. Let’s keep them around.
4. First Contact, Insurrection, Nemesis, Deep Space Nine Season 5-7 (1996-2002)
Usually, we hate gray tones in Starfleet uniforms. But the uniforms introduced in the 1996 film First Contact really are very smooth. And the pop of color in the undershirts/collars keeps them from looking bland and lifeless. Much like the original maroon movie uniforms, these look the most “military” of all the Starfleet uniforms. This fits, as they introduced them in a war with the Borg, and later used them on DS9 when the Federation was at war with the Dominion.
5. Strange New Worlds (2022)
A very recent addition to the canon, the retro-modern uniforms introduced in Strange New Worlds totally evoke the Pop Art colors of the original series. Only with much better fabrics that show much more in terms of details. The little Starfleet Deltas on the shoulders and sleeves? We love that touch. These uniforms prove that the basic concept of the classic ‘60s series still works today if you do them right. Kudos to SNW costume designer Bernadette Croft for bringing that classic style to the modern day.
6. Star Trek (2009), Into Darkness, Beyond (2009-2016)
Similar to Strange New Worlds, the “retro chic” uniforms of the Kelvin timeline movies were meant to evoke the bright, primary colors of The Original Series. And they really did just that, just as SNW’s uniforms currently do. The only reason that SNW ranks a wee bit higher is that we’re not super crazy about the “shirt over another shirt” thing the Abrams films had going on. Luckily, that was modified for Star Trek Beyond. But other than that detail, we love these.
7. The Original Series, The Animated Series (1966-1969, 1973-1975)
Yes, to modern eyes, these old-school uniforms look kinda cheap. The shirts scream “your Mom’s favorite fabric store,” and instead of a metal badge, it looks like someone slapped a Starfleet Delta sticker on the shirt. But, these bright primary colors instantly grab your eye, and make you think of a fun rainbow-hued future you actually want to live in. So hats off to TOS designer William Ware Theiss, who made these velour uniforms pop on all those tube television sets back in the day. They will live long and prosper.
8. Deep Space Nine Season 1-5, Generations, Voyager (1993-2001)
These uniforms first appeared on Deep Space Nine in 1993, then in the film Generations in 1994, and finally in Voyager from 1995-2001. Since they were lost in space, Janeway’s crew was stuck with one uniform design for seven years. They are very classic Trek, and are pretty much the TNG era uniforms, only with color on the shoulders and black in the torso. We dig them, and they’d rank higher, except for one thing. The cut and fit of these really make them look like cozy space pajamas. And once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
9. Discovery Season 4 (2021-2022)
We were not big fans of the original early 23rd-century designs, seen on Starfleet officers on Discovery. Star Trek only really got away with “one color” uniform standard one time (see entry #1). But when Discovery jumped to the 32nd century, the crew got some snazzy new uniforms to go with their new home in the far future. These costumes evoke the best of TOS, TNG, with a touch of the classic nautical tradition seen in the original movie uniforms, right on the shoulder. We hope these stick around in season five and beyond.
10. Lower Decks (2020-Present animated, 2023 live-action)
Yes, this is an animated show. But it’s canon, so we are counting them. We are not sure why the U.S.S. Cerritos has different uniforms than the rest of Starfleet, but we must admit, these are kind of cool. Much like the current Picard season three uniforms, they combine classic ‘90s Starfleet aesthetic with a little bit of the classic film uniforms, with the open flap on the shirt. The real reason we know these are good is that on the Strange New Worlds episode “Those Old Scientists,” both Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) wore the animated uniforms in live-action, and they were quite fetching.
11. The Next Generation Season 1-2 (1987-1989)
During the first two seasons of TNG, creator Gene Roddenberry decided that in the future, no one would want to see wrinkles. Look, he had a lot of wacky ideas. So he had his original series costume designer William Ware Theiss design jumpsuits that looked like spandex. To avoid wrinkles, they came with a foot strap to go over the shoe so that they could pull it taut. This was pure hell on the backs of the cast. Later, they demanded they be changed for season three into two-piece costumes. The basic design is still iconic, but they just look uncomfortable, making these awkward designs rank this low.
12. Discovery Seasons 1-3 (2017-2020)
Discovery’s first two seasons were set ten years prior to TOS, but the leap from these uniforms to what we saw later is head-scratching. While we like the blue hue, the silver piping on them and the accompanying shoes really just make these uniforms look like space tracksuits. It’s as if Starfleet decided to hire Adidas to design for them. When the crew of the Enterprise showed up in season two in classic colors, it just made us dislike these uniforms even more. Luckily, the Discovery crew eventually ditched them for snazzier threads when they landed 900 years in the future in season 3.
13. Prodigy (2021-2022)
Technically, the uniforms used by the kids on the Protostar in the animated series Prodigy are not quite official Starfleet. But these unique uniforms have a cool design overall. We dig the asymmetry in the torso. But we would love them way more if they ditched the grey and gave us some classic gold, red, and blue. Maybe we’ll get there someday. This series is just in its infancy.
14. Picard Season 1 (2020)
We didn’t see that many Starfleet uniforms in the first two seasons of Picard. But the ones we did see didn’t hit the mark. The basic design recalls the old DS9/Voyager uniforms, but there are just too many extra details on the shoulders. They are just a bit too busy. At least for the higher-ranking officers. The lower-ranking officers were ok, the collars are just awkward. Set phasers to “meh.”
15. The Original Series, Pilot Episodes (1965)
Think of these as prototypes. This sweater/pant set was seen first on Captain Christopher Pike in the first TOS pilot “The Cage.” Then again on Kirk in “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the second pilot. The design is actually kind of snazzy, in a mid-‘60s Mad Men-era way. But the color palette? Just way too muted. They’re just gray/blue and a boring pale yellow. Kind of yawn-worthy. Not awful, but they didn’t last long enough to make an impression. Luckily, when Star Trek went to series, they got much more fun in terms of color choices.
16. Enterprise (2001-2005)
We understand that Enterprise, set only 150 years in the future, was supposed to look more like our own modern era. But man, these Starfleet uniforms really just look like Captain Archer and crew were working as mechanics in a space garage. They are just a tad too real-world looking, and lack any sci-fi fun and fantasy. They’re still better than the Enterprise theme song though. And luckily for them, they are not the lowest ranked on this list.
17. The Motion Picture (1979)
Talk about coming full circle. Robert Fletcher, the same designer who made these lowest-ranked costumes for The Motion Picture, later designed the best uniforms in Star Trek in our estimation, from films II–VI. Much like the DS9/Voyager uniforms, these straight-up look like pajamas. But unlike the ones worn by Sisko and Janeway, these come in boring tones of beige, gray, and white. I’m sorry, Earth tones are Star Wars. We come to Star Trek to taste the rainbow. And Kirk’s regular duty uniform looks like he’s an interplanetary dentist. These made only one appearance, and there’s a reason why. Blow them out the airlock.
Originally published March 1, 2023.