What do those uniform colors mean, anyway?!

Discussion in 'Star Trek - The Original & Animated Series' started by Neopeius, Dec 9, 2021.

  1. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    Sure, we all know what they mean, and those little arrowhead insignia, and the braids on the cuffs, too. We've been watching Trek for 55 years after all, and we're superfans.

    BUT, put yourself back in time to December 1966, when the show was in its first season. When do you suppose you'd have caught on that the colors have significance? "It's obvious!" you cry, but is it? After all, I've watched three seasons of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and I still don't know why some wear red, some wear blue, and some wear chambrai.

    So, from my 1966 perspective, here'd be my guess:

    Spock and McCoy consistently wear blue. So does Chapel, and also the geologist in The Enemy Within. McCoy is a doctor, and Chapel is some kind of medically trained person. And, we all know Spock is a Dr. -- everyone knows Dr. Spock! (oh wait...)

    This would suggest that blue uniforms are the perquisite of those holding advanced degrees.

    Scotty, the security mooks, the transporter techs, they all wear red. Kirk wears brown, as does Sulu and the guy who sits to his right.

    Going off that, I'd make the guess that brown is for people who've been to some kind of naval academy (at this point, the word "Starfleet" has only been used once). And the red is for people who worked their way up from the ratings.

    Uhura has worn red and brown. No clue why...

    As for rank, at this point, I'd be pretty sure the braid indicates something, though if it followed USN conventions, Kirk would be a Lieutenant Commander, Spock would be a Lieutenant, and McCoy/Scotty would be Lt. JGs. Sulu would be an Ensign, and the braidless ones enlisted.

    By this point in the series, had Sulu or Uhura been identified as Lieutenants? If so, I'd have to recalibrate based on that.

    At this point, I haven't noticed the insiginias in the arrowheads. Heck, in The Enemy Within, Kirk didn't even have an arrowhead half the time...


    BY the way, if watched the show first time 'round, when did you figure out what the uniform colors mean?
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2021
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  2. C.E. Evans

    C.E. Evans Admiral Admiral

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    I do remember working out the colors as a kid, probably when I was around seven or eight.

    Seven or eight years old me:
    YELLOW: Control
    BLUE: Sciences & medical
    RED: Engineering, support, & expendables*

    *Okay, that last one at the end I came up with when I much older.

    As far as the rank stripes, I wasn't entirely up to how they worked in the USN and other navies at the time, but I had always thought that Starfleet had its own rank system anyway so I wasn't really bothered finding out later that their stripes weren't the same.
     
  3. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    That's lovely! Thank you for the anecdote.
     
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  4. Nerys Myk

    Nerys Myk Garth of Algar Premium Member

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  5. ZapBrannigan

    ZapBrannigan Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Brown isn't what most people see. :) It always looked yellow-gold on TV, and today we know the dye used was a yellow-green chartreuse.
     
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  6. Iamnotspock

    Iamnotspock Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Well, not if you were watching in black and white, I suppose.
     
  7. Danja

    Danja Commodore Commodore

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    [​IMG]
     
  8. Nerys Myk

    Nerys Myk Garth of Algar Premium Member

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    My family had a black and white set in '66. So yeah, I didn't really know until a few years later.
     
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  9. The Old Mixer

    The Old Mixer Mih ssim, mih ssim, nam, daed si Xim. Moderator

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    Yeah, time to adjust the color knob on that vintage set.
     
  10. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    So, I'm somewhat color blind, but to my eyes, it normally looks kind of a mustard -- a brownish yellow (or yellowish brown). I just asked the dozen folks in the house, and they agree with that consensus. Gold/yellow/brown -- in that realm.

    (notwithstanding what it was supposed to look like. :) )
     
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  11. Neopeius

    Neopeius Admiral Admiral

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    In any event, now that you're all here...

    Before you learned what the colors were supposed to represent, did you figure out what they were supposed to represent (other than being color balanced for the most artistic scene by the cinematographer :) )
     
  12. ZapBrannigan

    ZapBrannigan Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Fun fact about brown: there's no such color. :) It's not in the spectrum that comprises white light (red orange yellow green blue indigo violet). Turns out brown is just darkened orange. You can get it by mixing a little black paint into orange paint. I saw that in an online video. Brown is nothing but dark orange. A fraud!

    I was watching in b&w until at least 1975. Watching in color was such a visual feast at that point, I probably didn't get around to thinking about the meaning of the uniforms until after I'd read about them in TMOST and the Franz Joseph Technical Manual. So I knew the intended scheme (outliers like Dr. Ann Mulhall notwithstanding).

    It was an era when I might have access to a syndicated episode as little as once a week, but I never passed up a Star Trek title at the bookstore, and I went over them all the time. The numbered James Blish books were like a prehistoric version of the VCR. :bolian:
     
  13. Maurice

    Maurice FACT TREKKING across the universe... Premium Member

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    According to Theiss, and every internal memo that mentions the color, and women’s wardrobe Andrea Weaver, the color was green in real life. In fact, Weaver told me the blue dyes in LA at that time were unstable so the colors of the fabrics tended to change over time, so what the surviving costumes look like now is not necessarily what they looked like then.

    Make of that what you will.
     
  14. Paul Weaver

    Paul Weaver Rear Admiral Premium Member

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    Kirk said "Lieutenant Uhura" in "The Corbomite Maneuver", "The Man Trap", "The Naked Time", "Balance of Terror" and many more (about 10 in the first season alone)

    "Lieutenant Sulu" didn't crop up until "Shore Leave", and then wasn't a crewmember saying it. Before then Kirk had typically called him "Mister Sulu". Spock said "Lieutenant Sulu" in "The Squire of Gothos", and Kirk finally in "The Changeling", but unlike Uhura it certainly wasn't clear in the days before video tape, easy enough to miss, especially if you missed episodes
     
  15. Captain Tracy

    Captain Tracy Commander Red Shirt

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    Directly: If - big supposition-indicating "if" provided up front - you hold the Franz Joseph authored Star Fleet Technical Manual as an authoritative source of information, you could reference his take on the subject; and, see if that might serve to fit into the paradigm you are wishing to satisfy.

    Indirectly: I have also puzzled on this topic as well; however, my thoughts were more about:

    "Why Gold, Tan,- or whatever color those shirts were supposed to be - Tenne, Khaki?";

    and,

    "Why the appearing-disappearing-re-appearing Green?"

    Much over-emphasis and use of color was happening in mid-sixties television, and in an attempt to capitalize on the new "IN COLOR" advance in technology. So, if you were creating a new show called Star Trek, and you were going to design it to capitalize on the color technology waiting on the doorstep of America, it seems to me, that the most obvious answer would be to go with the Primary Colors - being: Red, Yellow, and Blue - in order to maximize on what color television cameras and color television sets "see" well.

    Okay, so I'll hazard an unfounded guess that Yellow looked too bright, unflattering, unheroic; or perhaps simply didn't shoot well or reproduce well under studio lighting conditions - who knows - not me;

    however,

    Gold become a powerful and dignified substitution - imho - for big-bird Yellow. So to me, everything makes good sense so far; if using the Primary's [with the chosen Yellow substitute] as your guide in decision-making;

    but then,

    We get this Green Captain's shirt - early-version - which may have been chosen to distinguish the captain from the rest of the crew; and, make the Star-of-the-Show stand out to the audience; with which, if that was the reasoning, makes sense to me;

    but then,

    the Green is replaced by the Gold/Tenne; and then, the Green Captain's Shirt shows back up - other-version - disappears, shows back up, and, disappears again - round and round.

    Now, there has to be an in-story behind all of this; being, one I would like to know.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2021
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  16. BK613

    BK613 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I would say that the video in question was in error. Actually, mixing any two complementary colors from the paint color wheel can give you some shade of brown. For the paint primary colors, that is Red and Green, Blue and Orange, and Yellow and Violet.
     
  17. BK613

    BK613 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Try reading what you quoted. It's December, 1966, and FJ's Tech Manual will not appear for another nine years.
     
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  18. Captain Tracy

    Captain Tracy Commander Red Shirt

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    Which would discount the fact that he came up with his own classification-rationale... how ?
     
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  19. alchemist

    alchemist Captain Captain

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    I don't understand what you're trying to convey with/through your strikethrough text but the primary subtractive colors are yellow, cyan, and magenta and the primary additive colors are red, blue, and green. I hypothesize that TOS was going after this latter scheme.
     
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  20. Captain Tracy

    Captain Tracy Commander Red Shirt

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    I didn't create the strik-thru in the text. So, no clues on that one.