Star Trek's innovative costumes help humans and aliens look their best

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      Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion From the Final Frontier
      By Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann. Insight, 256 pp, hardcover

      Whether you’re battling a Gorn, experiencing the vicissitudes of pon farr, or going head-to-head with an evil mirror-universe version of yourself, Fernando Lamas’s prime directive—that it’s better to look good than feel good—remains a solid rule of thumb.

      And indeed, the people (and aliens) of Star Trek have consistently looked good, thanks to some very skilled and ingenious wardrobers.

      In Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion From the Final Frontier, Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann delve into the franchise’s long sartorial history, running the gamut from original Enterprise captain Jeffrey Hunter’s velour turtleneck to current skipper Chris Pine’s high-tech duty tunic—as well as everything in between. After all, over five live-action TV series and 12 movies, the inhabitants of the 23rd- and 24th-century Trek universe have gone through a lot of clothes.

      A sumptuous coffee-table book, Star Trek Costumes contains hundreds of full-colour photos, and offers close-up looks at many famous—and not so famous—Trek creations. It’s a comprehensive visual history, to be sure, but the photos are rendered even more vital by the book’s engaging text, which offers up entertaining anecdotes and detailed information. There are numerous interviews too, with the likes of original costumer William Ware Theiss (Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation), movie designers like Robert Fletcher and Nilo Rodis-Jamero (who also designed the notorious Princess Leia “slave girl” outfit); later TV wardrobers like Robert Blackman (Deep Space 9, Voyager, and Enterprise), and current Trek movie costumer Michael Kaplan weighing in on back story, materials used, and construction techniques.

      As the primary sources make clear, early Trek costumers didn’t always have the free rein and unlimited expense accounts of modern movie wardrobers. Costumes we rejigged and re-used in different episodes, double-sided tape got some heavy use, and everyday items were pressed into service (for example, plastic place mats filled in for body armour and fabrics were stencilled with spray paint). But in the end, it was all subject to network censors, who in the 1960s still had final say. As with I Dream of Jeannie, bellybuttons had to be covered and cleavage kept to a minimum.

      Even so, Star Trek Costumes manages to titillate with a liberal dose of both cheesecake and beefcake. From William Shatner’s biceps to the gravity-defying form of Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), from Famke Janssen to Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s a beautiful book full of beautiful people. (Sadly, Teri Garr, who appeared in the original series episode “Assignment: Earth”, was passed over, but you can’t win ’em all.)

      Ultimately, what emerges is a serious examination of some important Hollywood and television history. With their easygoing style—and a sly wink—Block and Erdmann have successfully navigated the line between fans and historians, and have created a book that will appeal to Trekker and non-Trekker alike.

      It is, as Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating.”