Space…The Final Frontier
In 1964, Gene Roddenberry pitched his idea for a space-age Western to NBC. His hope was to create a science fiction series that was like “Wagon Train to the stars,” but he also wanted the show’s content to reflect some of the very real problems that were plaguing Earth at the time. He felt the show had the potential to provide viewers with a realistic glimpse into a more utopian society, one which he thought was possible for humanity if they could learn some lessons from the past.
In 1966, his vision came to fruition when Star Trek first hit the airwaves. Over time, the show would go on to earn high praise for its cultural influence. The Original Series featured one of TVs first multiracial casts, one that also portrayed women in working roles, and many have cited Star Trek as being the inspiration, at least in part, to some of the technologies we have today, like cell phones and computer tablets. We even have a new way of speaking to each other thanks to Star Trek with the creation of Klingon, the world’s most popular fictional language.
The attention to detail Roddenberry brought to creating his fictional universe was immense, and while he may have helped inspire the iPad, not everything from Star Trek has caught on just yet. Apparently, his vision of a more utopian future also included velour tops, spandex jumpsuits and plastic. Something tells us we still have a ways to go before we start seeing fashion models walking down the catwalk dressed like Worf.
While the Star Trek uniform colors might seem highly illogical, that doesn’t mean they actually lacked that same awareness Roddenberry used elsewhere in the series. In fact, a lot of thought went into the costume design. The colors and insignia on each uniform can actually be quite telling.
It turns out there is a reason you should avoid wearing a red shirt during exploration missions.
To Boldly Go Where No Costume Designer Has Gone Before
To stay in line with his vision of a realistic future, Roddenberry wanted crew members of the Enterprise, the fictional star-ship of the series, to have realistic jobs and job titles. They used the US Navy as a guide, creating comparable ranks and job structures. There was a commander, a handful of lieutenant commanders, lieutenants, and numerous other roles. The various positions were eventually learned by viewers throughout the course of the show, but it was the uniform colors that gave the real hints as to who does what on Enterprise.
The Starfleet did not have randomly assigned uniform colors. Each color actually represented one of the ship’s various jobs and service roles. Here’s a quick breakdown on the Star Trek uniform colors from the Original Series:
- The command division wore gold shirts. This includes Captain Kirk, Lieutenant Sulu, and Pavel Chekov.
- The science and medical staff wore blue shirts. This includes Lieutenant Commander McCoy and Commander Spock.
- The engineering and communications division wore red shirts. This included Chief Engineer Scotty and Communications Officer Uhura.
- The security division also wore red shirts. You might know these people as the careless supporting characters that are immediately killed whenever the crew is confronted by a new enemy. We told you to avoid them.
This all gets a little messy in later Star Trek series. In The Next Generation, for example, command staff wore red and it was the engineering and security staff that wore yellow. Each new Star Trek movie that comes out further complicates things. Costume colors switch in almost every new adaptation.
Sleeve stripes highlighted the rank of crew members. The meaning of these has also changed throughout the course of the franchise. Generally speaking, the more stripes one had on their sleeve, the higher ranking they were. So captains often wore two or three stripes, while other enlisted officers might only have a single stripe.
Gold Is The New Green
Now for the really confusing part. Remember how Captain Kirk and crew wore those gold command shirts?
The Star Trek uniform colors were originally supposed to be red, blue and green. If you pay close attention, you’ll see this was the case. Captain Kirk’s outfit was actually more of a lime green when he was on set, but under bright studio lights, it appeared gold on film. As Star Trek costume designer William Theiss describes, “It was one of those film stock things. It photographed one way – burnt orange or a gold. But in reality was another; the command shirts were definitely green.”
Despite gold being canonized in later show dialog, when the lights are off, Kirk definitely shows his true colors.
Regardless of what color they were, one has to respect the vision and contributions that Star Trek has brought to the science fiction genre. Gene Roddenberry wanted everything in his fictional universe to have a specific purpose. While the series has had it’s share of highs and lows, one has to respect the attention to detail given. Just hope you never find yourself stuck wearing one of those red shirts.
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.