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In the original Star Trek engineers and security officers wore red shirts but in ST:TNG engineers and security officers wore yellow shirts and command officers wore red shirts. Was it ever explained why there was a uniform color change?

  • 16
    Some intern noticed the correlation between wearing a red shirt and fatalities on an away team, of course. – dmckee Jul 1 '11 at 16:02
  • See also this article (Empire, 2013), which offers many behind-the-scenes reasoning throughout the franchise, including why the change from mixed neutrals to all-red for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (they re-cut and re-dyed fabrics from The Motion Picture, and red dyed the best): empireonline.com/movies/features/evolution-star-trek-costumes – jtheletter Jul 13 '17 at 2:44
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In the pilot original series episodes (The Cage and The Man Trap), the science and security personnel wore blue; once the series went into production, engineering and security wore (as you said) red. (Enterprise also used this division colour scheme, but in a subtle line on the otherwise uniform uniforms).

Blue shirts in "The Cage" Note the red stripe on Reed's uniform

In The Motion Picture, the security guards wore white uniforms with brown helmets and breastplates and engineers worse white spacesuits with black collars. In The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Roddenberry explained that the uniforms were redesigned because the original bright colours would distract viewers on the large screen. However, these changes proved unpopular, so were redesigned again for the later films.

Various "The Motion Picture" uniforms

In The Next Generation, security wore gold (as you said). Sisko mentions this change to Bashir in the DS9 episode Trials and Tribble-ations (which refers back to the classic original series episode).

BASHIR: Wait a minute, aren't you two wearing the wrong colour?

O'BRIEN: Don't you know anything about this period in time?

BASHIR: I'm a doctor, not an historian.

SISKO: In the old days, operations officers wore red, command officers wore gold.

DAX: And women wore less.

(Dax pirouettes)

BASHIR: I think I'm going to like history.

Memory Alpha has a nice timeline of the colours for the different divisions.

As far as I know, an in-universe explanation for the change wasn't ever given (but the real military make changes like this too).

Out-of-universe, what I've read in various places suggests that it was due to colour-tests with the actors. In particular:

  • Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes looked better in red than in gold.
  • Brent Spiner, in Data make-up, didn't look good in blue (i.e. blue on grey), and so his uniform was changed to the best combination with grey (gold). That led the way to making other changes.
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    I'd always assumed they realized the ridiculousness of having security wear a color that could not EVER blend in to any terrain and makes your primary combatants look like targets. – Jeff Jul 1 '11 at 13:16
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    @Jeff Death by snu-snu? – OghmaOsiris Jul 1 '11 at 17:47
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    @Jeff Keep in mind security should stand out, they aren't some marine unit trying to blend in, they are supposed to be easily spotted so you won't cause trouble when they are around, or so you can find them if you need them – Sydenam Jul 2 '11 at 10:38
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    +1 just for "Dax Pirouettes". But, as a son of a man who was in the National Guard and a son-in-law of a navy man, I can attest to the fact that minor uniform changes happen all the time, and that major ones like color changes over the period of a decade or two are especially likely. – Zibbobz Mar 31 '14 at 13:39
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    +1 for Bashir's TOS reference to McCoy: "I'm a doctor, not an historian." – Often Right May 20 '15 at 6:31
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The actual color schemes:

  • Pilot
    • Command (Operations): light Green - but it looks gold on screen due to lighting.
    • Sciences/Medical: blue
    • Engineering/Administration: red - but it looked pink on screen
  • TOS
    • Command (Operations): Green - but it looks gold on screen
    • Sciences/Medical: Blue
    • Engineering/Support Services: Red - different fabric used, so it looks red.
  • TMP
    worn only on the insignia, not the tunic colors
    • Command: White
    • Engineering: Red
    • Helm: Yellow (same yellow as the film captured from the green tunics)
    • Sciences: orange
    • Medical: Surgical Green
    • Security and Weapons: Gray
  • Later TOS movies
    Again, not on tunics
    • Command: White
    • Engineering/Helm/Gunnery: Yellow
    • Science: Gray
    • Medical: light green
    • Security: dark green
    • Special Services: Sky Blue
    • Marines: Royal Blue
    • Cadets: Red
  • TNG flasbacks to movie style uniforms
    Uniforms are red
    • Command/Operations: White
    • Engineering/Gunnery/Security: Yellow
    • Sciences/Medical: gray
  • TNG
    Note marines wear same 3 colors, but distinctive uniforms in DS9
    • Command/Operations: Red
    • Engineering/Security/Technical: Yellow
    • Sciences/Medical: Blue

Notes:

The gray used for sciences is a blue-gray.

So, the original "gold" becomes helm, then helm is merged into engineering, and engineering keeps it when helm merges back to command. This leaves red unused, but since red was the uniform primary color, making it the public face (namely, Command) makes sense.

Command starts out lime green (but films as gold)... then becomes white on gray then on red uniforms, then red on black uniforms.

References:
http://www.st-spike.org/
http://www.startrekpropauthority.com/2009/03/star-trek-exhibition-in-detroit.html

  • 1
    I seem to remember some TNG-era Federation personnel wearing green. I'm apparently not the only one; the first couple of seasons of TNG apparently had some emerald green, which may have been Security or Medical (before Medical was given the same blue as Science, and Security got the same gold as Engineering). – KeithS Oct 28 '11 at 18:28
  • I remember but can't document them. I presume they're marines, as medical was ALWAYS in blue in TNG. – aramis Oct 29 '11 at 9:27
  • Actually, having watched it on DVD recently, and not the remastered ones, there are green jumpsuit uniforms (just like the one Spock wears in Spock's Brain) in several episodes; excepting Spock, we see those actors in command "yellow" in other episodes. – aramis Jun 25 '14 at 2:57
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Kirk's dress uniform was green to match his duty uniform, which looked gold under the studio lights.

I have books that were written during the production of seasons 1 and 2 of TOS, published after each wrapped. Don't know if there's a 3rd.

The 1st season shirts were what the costume department called "that damned velour" because it shrank when washed, not just the first washing but every washing. They had to be taken apart and re-fitted and sewn after every washing, eventually cut down for smaller actors.

It wasn't easy finding a gold fabric for the 2nd season that looked the same under the lights as the green velour.

Why not find a green fabric that didn't color shift under studio lights? Because it was already bought and there was a tight budget so they just went with what they had and to heck with the discontinuity of the green dress uniform.

ISTR there was a practical reason for science and medical both being blue and engineering and security both being red. Don't know if it was because Desilu couldn't afford more colors or if the velour wasn't available in more colors. Poorly exercised wetware wants to say there were two different shades of red but the color gamut of television made them look the same.

There's also a rarely seen uniform shirt in TOS that's a sort of kahki color with lots of pockets. I know it's worn by one person in a hallway scene in one episode.

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