Aesthetics carry messages about values. Star Trek, while frequently written about in historical, literary, and technological terms, was also a visual experience with a distinctive aesthetic, and there’s a lot there to talk about! I just wrote a term paper on the topic, and it’s my pleasure to bring you some highlights related to Star Trek’s costumes — specifically, the infamous miniskirts.
William “Bill” Ware Theiss, a gay costume designer at the beginning of his career, developed the costumes for the full run of the show. The iconic uniforms were the third version developed over the course of several pilots, and their final form was a combination of practicality and aesthetics. The two earlier styles made use of velour tunics, chosen for their futuristic sheen under stage lights. Velour shrinks with every wash, though, and since television costumes are laundered every day, the tunics had to be continually refitted for the actors.
The uniform colors, along with brightly-colored sets and lighting, were chosen in part simply because color televisions were becoming common in the United States in the mid-1960s when Star Trek first aired. The parent network, RCA, even advertised their color TVs by telling customers how good Star Trek looked on them — The bright red color in particular was added to blue and gold versions because it was “RCA color TV-friendly.” The final effect is sleek and colorblocked, a “futuristic” impression largely stemming from minimalistic styling. The bright colors and figure-hugging cuts also project a confidently eyecatching demeanor.