In TNG in season 3, we see the 'upgrade' of the Starfleet uniforms for the main cast (because of the tightness of the other uniforms). However, the rest of the crew (i.e. the non-main characters) still wear the old uniforms with the colored piping on their shoulders. I expect the real reason for this would be budget constraints for redoing all the uniforms, so they just left them in there, but is there an in-universe explanation for this discrepancy?

2 Answers 2


We see this a couple of times in the ST universe (DS9 does it, and so does the Generations movie).

I don't think it is directly addressed in-universe, but this happens in real-life when uniform and equipment changes are implemented in organisations like police forces and armies. When you have 100,000 people (approximate size of the British Army including the reserves) then it takes time to produce and distribute enough uniforms and equipment for each individual (who may need several shirts, a couple of pairs of trousers, and multiple other items).

Of course, you'd expect the ST universe and StarFleet's access to replicators to somewhat simplify the manufacturing and distribution process - but the replicator economy does seem to have limits from time to time. It's a bit more forgiveable in DS9 where they're supposedly "beyond the frontier".

  • DS9 actually hardly does that. The only instance I can think of is that the TNG II uniform was still worn by quite some non-DS9-personnel during the first few seasons (and Sisko even switches "back" to that style while visiting Earth for a while), so rather than assuming that the TNG II uniform was being completely phased out, it looks more like the new DS9 uniform was exclusive to space station crews at first. The communicator switch after season 2 and later, the switch to the First Contact uniforms, were both abrupt and complete. Commented May 2, 2014 at 11:55
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    @O.R.Mapper - the DS9 instance actually makes more sense - uniforms would be distributed by ship/station rather than to individuals. DS9 is a new station/posting, so it would be receiving new supplies.
    – HorusKol
    Commented May 4, 2014 at 23:20
  • In the time of replicators, I doubt someone would have to "wait for supplies to arrive", and accordingly, "receiving new supplies" wouldn't provide any advantage over new vessels/stations. And, as I said, Sisko even switched back to the TNG style at one point. Commented May 5, 2014 at 6:53
  • @O.R.Mapper - I acknowledge the replicator thing is an issue, but Sisko's reversion isn't too much of a surprise as the uniform change is coincident to a change in assignment to a different posting - so he needs to dress the same as everyone else tehre
    – HorusKol
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 7:12
  • Actually, if I recall correctly, he switches before he is informed about the change in assignment. Commented May 5, 2014 at 8:20

At one point during my time in the military, four different variations of our field/working uniform was authorized for wear while on duty. As the uniform design, features or material were upgraded, the old uniforms were still authorized for wear. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that uniforms are made in bulk and a goodly supply of older style uniforms, in some cases, were still in the supply chain. No further uniforms of that style would be manufactured and as the supply depleted to a pre-decided level, that uniform would be 'decommissioned'.

Any individual who still had that 'model' of uniform in 'serviceable' condition were authorized to wear it. An exception to this was that some units or circumstances precluded variations in uniform appearance such as drill formations, parades, certain positions or posts, etc. where everyone was required to 'look alike' or wear 'current issue' (that is what 'uniform' means after all).

Starfleet being a military organization has similar protocols. That's why you see different style or color pattern uniforms on different people. The bridge crew because of their position would always be 'well dressed' with the most current issue uniform. The only deviation to this standard is if they're at a remote post or someone who held such an extremely high rank that they decide that their uniform can be just about anything they want because they're the only one. Think swagger stick and pearl handled phaser on the hip.

There are also some additional Starfleet uniform variances allowed for cultural differences. Here are some Starfleet dress code regulation references:


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    Love the pearl handled phaser.
    – DaveP
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 14:33
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    As an in-show example, Picard almost always wore a jacket-like variation of the standard uniform towards the end of TNG.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 15:07
  • That just seems a bit odd. If there are four varieties (forms), doesn't that make it no longer a uni-form in a very literal sense? Commented May 2, 2014 at 19:00
  • @MasonWheeler -That's true in that they don't all look the same but they were all authorized for wear while on duty, less the noted 'exceptions' of course. And that was only the 'work cloths'. Getting into the 'dress uniforms' adds many more variations to the appearance and all are 'authorized for wear'.
    – Morgan
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 19:38

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