How Star Trek Brought Its Most Underrated Uniform Back
Costume designer Bernadette Croft reveals how she rebooted the look from “The Menagerie” for Strange New Worlds.
In November 1966, Star Trek aired a game-changing story. In its only two-part episode ever, “The Menagerie,” Spock goes on trial for mutiny, leading to a memorable courtroom storyline that retroactively established the Captain Pike backstory. For the occasion of the courtroom drama, the entire crew rocks their dress uniforms, which introduced a fancy variant of the famous Starfleet uniform. And now, in Strange New Worlds, that classic dress uniform is back.
“We actually call the formal dress uniforms on Strange New Worlds, ‘The Menagerie uniforms’,” costume designer Bernadette Croft tells Inverse. “It’s our colors and our fabric, but we’re really leaning into the nostalgia.” Ahead of Strange New Worlds Season 2, Episode 2, “Ad Astra per Aspera,” we caught up with Croft to discuss these the new/old dress uniforms, the fairytale vibe from last year’s “The Elysian Kingdom,” as well as a secret very retro uniform she and her team created, that fans barely noticed. Spoilers ahead.
Number One’s trial in “Ad Astra per Aspera” is deeply meta on a canon level. Several of the beats of this episode will remind Trek fans of Spock’s trial in “The Menagerie,” an episode that essentially gave birth to Strange New Worlds in the first place. When Gene Roddenberry decided to repurpose footage from the rejected 1964 pilot episode, “The Cage,” and use it as an extended flashback in “The Menagerie,” the idea of Captain Pike, Number One, and Spock on the Enterprise pre-Kirk became possible.
Tonally, “Ad Astra per Aspera” isn’t much like “The Menagerie,” but considering Spock stole the Enterprise in the previous episode, “The Broken Circle,” the argument that Strange New Worlds is doing its best to be a 2023 update of the 1960s show is strong. For Croft, that aesthetic has to come across in the costumes. Though, because Strange New Worlds comes chronologically after Discovery Season 2, influences from that series are felt, too.
“It’s kind of like a fusion of both shows,” Croft explains. “The trim around the neck and down the center front to just have more detail. We also did a collar decal. That hides the zippers. I learned that trick from [costume designer] Gersha Phillips on Discovery. Our dress uniforms also have that heroic silhouette, with a bit more power. It's also kind of the same silhouette as our normal staff uniforms. Their rank is on their shoulders, and that's in cadence with the Admiral uniform. People have reacted well to it. It seems the fans think it’s a pretty good update.”
In 1964 and 1965, Star Trek: The Original Series used velour for the uniforms in the first two pilot episodes: “The Cage,” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Because Discovery Season 2 and Strange New Worlds take place after “The Cage,” the uniforms are somewhere between 2254 and 2265. But, what about before that? What did the uniforms look like when Captain Pike served under Captain April in the 2240s? If you look closely at a photograph in Pike’s quarters in the Season 1 finale, you’ll see the answer. In the photo, Pike and April are rocking very velour, retro Starfleet uniforms. But, Croft reveals this wasn’t a Photoshop trick.
“It was so funny because it was a last-minute request. We didn't have much time at all,” Croft explains. “But yeah, with the picture in the frame, we were’ like ‘we gotta do The Cage.’ We obviously checked with our showrunners and producers to make sure that the uniform makes sense for April and Pike to be wearing. Usually, we tweak things. But this time we were like, let’s just do that velour look. We found this olive velour fabric locally, and we whipped that together.”
As Emmy season approaches at warp speed, Bernadette Croft is hopeful that the world beyond eagle-eyed Star Trek fans takes notice of the work of her amazing costume team. Specifically, the Season 1 episode, “The Elysian Kingdom,” is eligible for a costume Emmy. In that episode, the entire USS Enterprise was transformed into a fairytale world, thanks to a telepathic alien who read the memories of Dr. M’Benga’s daughter, Rukiya. And, as a result, the entire crew gets costumes that feel worthy of an entire sword and sorcery fantasy series.
“Because the world was from Rukiya’s imagination, I got to tap into that feeling of being a kid and how vibrant your imagination can be,” Croft explains. “So, for Christina’s [Chong] dress, I designed her dress the way I would draw princess dresses as a kid. It was exaggerated and had a life of its own when she walked around the halls of the Enterprise.”
The range that Croft demonstrated in the costumes from “The Elysium Kingdom” in Season 1 is on full display in Season 2. From updated Klingon armor to new elegant gowns for the Vulcans to some very big surprises later in the season, the eye-popping costumes of Strange New Worlds are at least part of the reason to watch. Like the ground-breaking costumes of William Ware Theiss for the 1960s Star Trek, Bernadette Croft is pushing the envelope, not so much to make a show that is futuristic, but one that treats the realm of this corner of the Star Trek franchise, less like science fiction and more like historical fiction.
“We take all sorts of inspiration,” Croft explains. “Sometimes it's a retro-futuristic world and we have to lean into fashions and silhouettes from the past. But other times, we’re going further into history. Our team needs to show that they're about to embark on this adventure. What does the weather look like in that society? How does the clothing take on the work that society is doing? And I think the costume is such an important visual storytelling tool.”