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Beginning in Season 4 of "Star Trek: Enterprise", science officer T'Pol received a Starfleet commission granting her the rank of Commander. However, afterwards she continued to wear civilian Vulcan clothing. This attire choice made sense when she was a member of the Vulcan High Command (during the first two seasons) and, later, a civilian (third season). As a member of Starfleet, though, she would be subject to the same dress code as other crewmembers.

Out-of-universe, her attire was obviously given the "7 of 9" treatment (attractive actress in tight-fitting bodysuit). I'm curious about the in-universe explanation, though, and wanted to know if it was ever addressed within the show or its spin-off materials.

While in Starfleet, why was T'Pol exempted from Starfleet uniform protocol?

  • (1/2) ENT is a himn on how stupid and obtuse humanity is; the series begin with Starfleet being completely disconnected from reality and from anything ever happened in the past, and slowly crawls up to a pinch of normality. So for example they need a couple of season to add military personnel on a military ship, they need to reinvent the wheel to come up with the idea of alert levels, they obviously had to rediscover the prime directive, and so on. T'Pol? Well, Starfleet has forgotten thousands of year of history, is it that surprising that they are still learning how to use uniforms? – motoDrizzt Dec 19 '19 at 12:30
  • (2/2) Especially with T'Pol: she is an alien, anyway. Does the Starfleet dress code applies to aliens? Did they already know it? Or did they still had to learn what is an uniform and how to use it? – motoDrizzt Dec 19 '19 at 12:32
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    Is Dr flox considered a member of Starfleet or a civilian? – Garret Gang Dec 19 '19 at 13:42
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    @GarretGang Phlox was part of the Interspecies Medical Exchange program (memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Interspecies_Medical_Exchange). I can't find any reference to him being in a Denobulan equivalent to Starfleet so I assume he's technically a civilian with a Starfleet job, however that works. – Withad Dec 19 '19 at 16:04
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    This isn't really enough for an answer but by TNG, uniform rules seem to be at the discretion of the captain or senior staff. Worf's allowed to wear his baldric, the Bajoran earring is disallowed but exceptions are made ("Ensign Ro", "Learning Curve"), and Troi puts on an actual uniform at Jellico's request ("Chain of Command"). So Archer may have simply allowed it for some reason. – Withad Dec 19 '19 at 16:25
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According to the EU novel Star Trek: Enterprise - The Good That Men Do, after she received her commission from Starfleet T'Pol continued to wear a modified Vulcan uniform because she wanted to (it representing a link to her former life as an officer in the Vulcan forces). In turn, Archer was happy to tolerate this because of his respect for her on a personal level and presumably seeing no reason to push the issue.

T’Pol turned and picked up one of Trip’s royal blue uniform jumpsuits. After the Vulcan High Command had cashiered her, Starfleet had granted her a commission. Yet she had never donned their uniform. Perhaps the Vulcan uniform she still wore—a garment that now bore Starfleet commander’s pips—represented an illogical attachment to the past.

After

Trip's death she evidently reconsidered her position.

"And perhaps Trip’s death signified that the time had finally arrived to move past such impulses."

T'pol chose to switch to wearing a Starfleet uniform in his honour, his death representing the point at which she began to fully accept that she was actually in Starfleet and that it was time to stop thinking of herself as an outsider. Note that Archer is vaguely bemused by this decision rather than anything else.

The captain recalled how he’d felt four years ago, that he didn’t want a Vulcan on his ship. Now, he couldn’t imagine Enterprise without T’Pol. His science officer, quiet, competent, and still able to surprise her captain. This morning he stepped out of his ready room and immediately noticed that something was off. Looking towards the science station, Archer saw T’Pol in a Starfleet uniform. Even now he had to suppress a smile. Turning toward the science station, Archer asked, “T’Pol, have you found any ships in the vicinity that might correspond to the warp trail we followed here?”

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Ratings. Unfortunately, the decision was not made with an in-universe reason but was in fact for ratings. From this article, Branon Braga was asked why the uniform changed. The quote from the article, below::

During this time, the producers ordered massive changes to T’Pol’s uniform. Why? "Obviously, there's the ratings," co-creator and executive producer Brannon Braga said. "But the primary reason was a creative one. Last season ended with T'Pol leaving the Vulcan high command, so she would no longer wear the same uniform. And, after two years, our leading lady needed a change. She had been in that brown uniform with that little bowl haircut ... and Bob Blackman came up with some dynamite costumes."

Costume designer Robert Blackman gave a different explanation. "The ratings dropped," Blackman explained. "That's the frank, real answer. If you want the show to run seven years, you have to think about demographics." The show was trying to appeal to the key 18-34 male demographic and "there wasn't enough raw sex appeal" according to Blackman.

Blalock was not happy about the costume changes telling SFX Magazine, "You can’t substitute t*** and a** for good storytelling. You can have both, but you can't substitute one for the other, because the audience is not stupid. You can’t just throw in frivolous, uncharacteristic... well, bull and think it's gonna help the ratings!"

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    OP was explicitly looking for an in-universe description. – Valorum Dec 19 '19 at 19:45
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    @Valorum: Agreed, but as stated by the creative director of the show itself, there simply wasn't one. – Michael Stachowsky Dec 19 '19 at 19:58
  • He didn't state that there wasn't an in-universe reason, just that the out-of-universe (real) reason is because they wanted teen fanboys to lust over her and they couldn't do that if she was in a bog-standard starfleet uniform – Valorum Dec 19 '19 at 20:37

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