13 December 2014

FWS Top Ten: Military Sci-Fi Uniforms

Since the beginning of science fiction military uniforms in early cinema and television, there has been the batshit-insane over-the-top type of uniforms or the more realistic. For much of my life, the world of futuristic military uniforms was dominated by the colored code uniforms of Starfleet, and these uniforms became important symbols of the show itself and the fandom at large. The domination of the Starfleet uniform is seen in most uniforms of other science fiction works, and were openly mocked in the very cool Galaxy Quest.  Certainly, fans of Trek identify themselves just by which uniform they don, the branch, and the rank. Given that FWS is devoted to military science fiction, I thought it was high type that we discuss MSF uniforms.  So, while I am busy writing the blogpost on Patrolling, here is my Top Ten military sci-fi uniforms.

1. The Movie-era Starfleet Uniform (2278-2350)
Star Trek has some of the most recognized and iconic uniforms in the history of science fiction, for better or worse. The majority of Starfleet uniforms are well designed and thought out, then there is the uniforms from ST:TMP...the horror...the horror. To me, the original cast movie-era uniforms are simply the best of any Trek uniform and the most striking, especially when compared to the uniforms seen previously Trek works. Also, it seems like this uniform would be easy to live with, unlike a number of the TNG uniforms, and you could "feel" like you were serving in a military organization with a uniform like this. According to behind-the-scenes information, the turtleneck quilted undershirt was made with a sewing process called "trapunto" and the during the production of ST:TWOK, there was only a single needle to sew the undershirts in all of the west coast, due to the process being out-of-fashion for many years. Due to this and other reasons, the undershirt turtleneck is often the hardest element for most cosplayers and even when these uniforms were seen on TNG, the turtleneck was deleted. Oh, and the "bomber jacket" variant is awesome.

2. The Enterprise-era Starfleet Uniform (2140-2161)
I make no secret that Star Trek: Enterprise is one my favorite Trek series, and that it's cancellation was the final nail in the coffin for my Trek fandom. In the days prior to Kirk and Spock, the beginning days of Starfleet saw the use of a jumpsuit-style blue uniform with colored division pipping and a home assignment patch, and a black Henly undershirt. To me, the Enterprise uniform seemed based on the NASA astronaut jumpsuits or USN submarine uniforms and they were an attempt to have a more realistic look than the TOS era uniforms. Much like the ST:TWOK era uniforms, I could wearing this and it being a livable uniform. 

3. The Stargate Atlantis Expedition Uniform (Seasons One-Three)

I was never much for the original Stargate 1994 movie, nor the SG1 TV series, but for some reason, the concept of Atlantis really appalled me, and I rather liked the uniforms of the multinational Atlantis Expedition. According to the wikipedia article, the 2004 Expedition designed the uniforms to separate the military element and the civilian element through the use of colors, and they rather look like Starfleet uniforms, and the in-show dialog mocked this as well. Once again, this looks like a uniform that you actually wear, but it seems more sloppy than more traditional military uniforms, especially the way that rebel-with-a-P90 Colonel John Sheppard wears it. After season three, the uniforms were altered, with some of the main characters getting black collar-less leather jackets.

4. The Classic Battlestar Galactica Colonial Warriors Uniform

This is one of the military sci-fi uniforms I grew up with and I've always felt that it was a damn-fine looking uniform with an awesome suede leather jacket. While the colors of the uniform were taken from fashions of the late 1970's, the sci-fi touches made the Colonial Warrior uniforms a real standout, even over the other Galactica crew. You weren't cool onboard the Galactica unless you were donning on of these bad boys. Some costuming website I've researched have said that until recently, this was one of the hardest and most costly sci-fi uniforms, due to the base light brown uniform and the suede material. Recently, Magnoli Clothiers offers an accurate "Galactica" jacket...for $750 and yes, I thought about buying one.

5. The Star Force uniform from Starblazers/Space Cruiser Yamato
When it comes to 1970's sci-fi cool uniforms, you cannot miss the original Starblazers Star force uniforms, bell-bottoms and all.  Much like the original Starfleet uniform, the Starforce crew is outfitted in color-coded "anchor" symbols with a white base color, while the Black Tigers space fighter pilots were the black base color. The only female onboard ship is Nova, and she wears the very tight yellow- and-black uniform that is either sexists or awesome, depending on your POV. Much like the movie-era Starfleet uniforms and the Colonial Warrior uniforms, the Star Force uniforms were part of my early exposure to military science fiction. For several Halloweens when I was in grade school, my mother made me a "Derek Wildstar" Star Force uniform. No one knew who the hell I was, but I didn't care, it was epic. The recent live-action film did a nice job of adapting it to the big screen for real people.

6. The 2063 USMC Uniform from Space:Above and Beyond
I make no secret on how much I fucking love this show, and very soon, FWS will be writing an entire blogpost to that very subject. In this 1995-1996 Fox MSF television show, the United States Marine Corps of 2063-64 wears a familiar base uniform throughout the show: the military OD flight jumpsuit with black mock turtleneck undershirt. Throughout the show, the 58th core cast dons these OD jumpsuits in the cockpit of the Hammerhead fighter and during on-planet dirtside operations, even on worlds that are ot atmospheric standard. This means that these jumpsuits are actually an streamlined environmental suit rather than just normal flight suit. Dotted with all manner of patches, pins, and pockets, the SAAB USMC jumpsuit is completely functional and most likely the most realistic military science fiction seen on-screen because the actually uniform used by the production crew was ordered from (according to rumor) US Calvary. Unlike many of the uniforms seen on this list and most other sci-fi works, the SAAB USMC flight jumpsuit is an easy, cheaper uniform to cosplay, but nearly no one would know who the hell you are dressed up as. Pity.

7. The House Atreides Military Uniform from DUNE (1984) 

Say what you want about David Lynch's 1984 DUNE adaption to the sliver-screen, the costuming was epic and that extends to the military uniform of House Atreides. While only seen on-screen for a short amount of time, the House Atreides military uniform is one smart looking uniform that hearkens back to the turn-of-the-century military uniforms of the European powers prior to the First World War. Unlike other uniforms seen on this list that are jumpsuits and rather sloppy, this is a proper uniform that calls you to attention with all the older military touches. Oddly, the 1984 unsuccessful LJN toyline of the DUNE film had the Paul Atreides figure in his House Atreides uniform and not the Freman stillsuit, which he worn more throughout the film, and unlike the film, the LJN figure is wearing an olive-hued uniform, not black. In the pre-production catalog photos, Paul's uniform is a Smurf blue. Sadly, I do not think that will see the like of the House Atreides uniform until a Honor Harrington movie is committed to film.

8. Earth Force Uniform from Babylon 5

During the renaissance of science fiction back on television in the 1990's, there were two sci-fi tv shows about space stations, one was the from the juggernaut of Star Trek and the other was set in a new universe of weird aliens and epic space battles. Unlike DS9, the uniforms of the Terran military were more much "military" looking and were not colored coded like the Starfleet uniforms. Under the snapping looking uniforms was a very-trendy white collarless dress shirt, which were all the rage back in the 1990's. There are many pictures of me in high school with collarless shirts, and a few still survive, lurking around the very back of my closet. While B5 may have been the cheaper cousin to Deep Space Nine, the production crew developed one of the better future military organization uniforms of all time.

9. High Guard Uniform from Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda

After the death of the original Trek in the 1960's, Gene Roddenberry developed a new show about Dylan Hunt, an astronaut who was placed into cryogenic freeze and awake in a post-apocalyptic future, and Hunt attempted to restore civilization. The basic plot elements were recycled and reimagined from Genesis II into Andromeda. In the series from 2000-2005, Dylan Hunt was one of the sole survivors of the Systems Commonwealth High Guard. From some of the series, Hunt would wear the uniform of the High Guard which is an older style uniform that a nice look on screen and while it took touches from the Starfleet uniform, it was it's own uniform. Oddly, in the first episode, the High Guard crew of the Andromeda buckled tunics are a redish color with tan pants, then once Hunt is awoke, he dons a black uniform. The uniform is completely abandoned by the 4th season. It is a shame that the series started off on a such an interesting note, and boiled down to nothing.  

10. The United Planets Uniform From Forbidden Planet (1956)
Here it is, the Granddaddy of all military science fiction uniforms: the United Planets steel-grey uniforms from 1956's Forbidden Planet. In this groundbreaking science fiction film, the 23rd century has humans united with faster-than-light space travel under the United Planets banner. In one of the earliest future human military organizations, we seen the soldiers of the United Planets don military uniforms in a fully grey hue with baseball caps, along with a short-sleeve variant. Unlike other sci-fi costumes, the uniforms of the United Planets is more realistic but futuristic.


  1. I really appreciate this article. I haven't seen many comparisons that are so wide-ranging as this. I may disagree with your rankings in minor ways, but that's to be expected.

    A technical note: You have used the wrong choice between "its" and "it's" at least twice. While the possessive form of nouns requires an apostrophe, the possessive form of all pronouns uses none, even if it ends with an S.

    Jon's apostrophe. Jane's apostrophe. The starship's apostrophe.
    His apostrophe. Her apostrophe. Its apostrophe.

  2. Wonderful article. It's also worth noting that those Forbidden Planet uniforms showed up in all manner of sci-fi films and tv shows for years after, including notably the Twilight Zone (several times).

  3. An enjoyable article! Did you overlook the uniforms from 'Event Horizon'? The crosswise rank epaulettes were a distinctive mark.

  4. Totally agree with this one. Especially the Maroon Monster. the ST:WOK uniform set started off because frankly only two or three of the of the costumes form TMP are even remotely salvageable as a uniform those were the surgical scrubs, the Engineering uniforms and Kirks Formal Grey and white uniform.the scrubs and engineering utilities stayed with some modifications. And rightly so the Scrubs looked medical they seemed like something worn to keep it clean room. the Engineers uniform looked like a light environment or Radiation suit and sure enough that's how it's used. the rest was over died red and modified into uniforms for the background crewmen The enlisted and junior coveralls even though they were converted now looked right. the yokes on the collar harken to the sailor jumpers worn even today the shoulder rank tabs kept and fit traditions. the striped trousers the large duty belt with buckle look professional it looks and feels like the crew of a Ship of the line. the high collar and polished boots has that formal feel.
    the Officers uniforms looked naval felt like it was a authoritative. It had all the features you want in a Service uniform when spock and Kirk walk to the doors at the end of voyage home the uniform makes it march not a strole. the shoulders the rank insignia pips and breast badge blood striped trousers insignia buckle on the duty belt. it endows formality, regulation like the costumes form the hunt of red october ( which no real russian sub crew would be wearing all the time aboard) It set the tone.
    you just feel this is a military and these are officers had they given Kirk and company a Peaked cap or a garrison cap they would have fit well on a parade ground. the only part missing was ribbons and those were added for STIV,V and VI for the Admirals.
    the bomber jacket and waist coat versions Even the Field jacket. Of course practically speaking it was all very much a garrison set. better suited for ceremony then regular wear. but it looks great. When they made TNG they went back to the Space Pajamas. and the "Dress uniforms" That came with it just felt goofy. the VOY and early DS9 sets were the first of the really practical duty Uniforms for trek and the First Contact late DS9 set looked pro but felt duty formal Professional but not over bearing, suited for regular wear, but only with the White uniform did the uniform set get a professional looking formal uniform. Although that set with it's black striped trousers blue or white under shirt and white cavalry-style jacket it was in my opinion to formal and better for mess dress then service.


  5. The subject of uniforms always reminds me of one time when I was in the National Guard. It was the end of year drill, and therefore the annual class A inspection formation. After looking us over, the Company Commander turned to the First Sargent, and observed,

    “They look a lot prettier in BDUs with dirty faces.”

    Truer works were never spoken. We only wore our class As 5% of the time, and therefore had little incentive to maintain them. We wore our BDUs most of the time, even for parades, and other public functions. The BDUs were far more functional than the Class As. They had more and larger pockets; they were lose fitting, and therefore far more comfortable.

    In most cases, the purpose of uniforms is so that the audience can tell the characters apart, or how they look on screen. In an interview with the producers of “Battlestar Galactica” TOS, the reason they gave for the colors of the uniforms was how the stood out from the set pieces. I read in one article that the uniforms, (which the actors referred to as “pajamas,”) were in fact G suits.
    The most functional uniforms in a sci-fi series are the ones used in “Babylon 5, Crusade” prior to the “Appearances and Other Deceits” episode, (a long story about that episode.) The uniforms of the enlisted members were a jump suit that resembled the ones that NASA astronauts use. My understanding is that those uniforms had many of the same attributes that my BDUs had, loose fitting, and pockets.

  6. It's surprise to me that on this list we did not find an Mobile Infantry uniforms. I would say they are on my list for sure, but this is your list and of course there is no problem with that. ;)

    Ok, I think I would have an additional ones from my list to think about.

    - Alliance uniforms from Mass Effect 'verse.
    - UNSC Navy uniforms from HALO 'verse.
    - Imperial uniforms from Star Wars 'verse (of course)

    ... and the more I think about it the more uniforms show in my memory. Well I will stop, too many of them.

    1. I Liked the style of the Imperial uniforms although the boots and breaches seems left field for a navy, STWOK boots made sense as they were more or less jump boots, SW Imperial uniforms seems like they were a cavalry from the waist down. the JAcket looked good other then the odd cylinders and chicklet rank. Covers could have been better. They were trying to hard for the nazi look.
      Starship trooper uniform looked good on my own list it might have scored 11. You could see Where It was coming form It embraced the traditions although it was very Eastern European.
      The Enders Game Uniforms would have ranked a 13 With 12 being the ST First contact uniforms and 14 being the DS9/Voy uniforms. I liked the Enders Game uniforms. the Cadet uniform looked like a simplified OD service uniform with out jacket. the IF Duty uniform was close to the Enterprise uniform black undershirt, navy coveralls. Simple and to the point. just enough insignia to be traditional but enough form and function for a space crew. it was streamlined so the wearer could pull on a environment suit over it.

      The Mass Effect and Halo Uniforms were trying to hard. they had some traditions but they took them and pumped them up to Bane levels of Steroids. It felt more like Variations of Sly's Judge Dredd. the We are ODST versions looked right but the others went overboard.
      The Duty Uniforms form Mass effect looked more like a motorcycle riding set then a uniform. perhaps that was there goal? It looked like it was already armored. and there Formal Uniform was way to busy.

    2. That's some good points.

      When you mention Dredd it's remind me the uniform from first movie, it was rather good looking one. And I see that it was an inspiration for officer uniform in Mass Effect.

      From HALO I prefer more uniform of captain Cutter but the ones shown in "Forward Unto Dawn" were also good looking, more practical.

      The Starship Troopers as the satire for books, were design around quasi Reich designs. It's not too hard to see a obvious similarity to German style. But I like that style...

      But I would not put on the list uniforms from my beloved W40k... for obvious reasons. ;)

  7. I was about to ask what you thought of the ISPN uniform (blue jumpsuit with logo'd T-shirt) from Star Cops, then I just realised you were talking military uniforms, so technically the International Space Police Force wouldn't count.

    Good article, nice to see some love for the Earthforce garb.