Design Appreciation: the costumes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Gaye salutes the majestic costumes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and suggests why they all work as well as they do...
The Star Trek series of TV shows did futuristic technology well enough. If what you needed was a computer display, ship controls or energy weapons, someone had the designs covered. What telly Star Trek wasn't especially remarkable for was its sets. Most outdoor locations on alien worlds looked far too similar to Earth to suspend disbelief. Any cave or rock formation the crew happened to stumble across was unconvincing and a lot of interiors looked plastic-y.
The Deep Space 9 series had those shortcomings as well as an added challenge, taking place as it did on a space station, and not a very attractive one at that. Scenes on the station were limited to a few living quarters, a couple of shops and offices and Quark's bar. It would be easy to grow tired of the confines of the sets and if you wanted a change of scenery you'd have to get the shuttle out of there.
But the drawback of a stagnant station also gave DS9 what is, for our gold-pressed latinum, its greatest design accomplishment - its costumes.
Because each weekly show did not have to venture out to find alien races and the various lifeforms made their way to the station, the show always featured many costumed actors, all decked out in their alien finery. And a great deal of effort went into each design, whether they featured on the episode for a good chunk of its runtime, or merely passed behind leads and were gone in seconds. (It's satisfyingly fitting that a main character of the show, Garak, pictured first below, was an accomplished tailor and sometime spy.)
Deep Space Nine did a fantastic job of costuming alien races with common wardrobe elements, yet gave individuals a unique look within their group. This might be a barely perceptible pattern on identically or closely coloured materials, but careful viewing revealed the refinements.
Patterns in the universe
And what patterns! Some costumes were pieced together from more than a dozen separate fabrics, layered and inset to make up a whole. It will be impossible to display adequately in the space we have here, but some pieces had exquisitely intricate designs in knits, silks, chiffons and brocade textiles.
Nowhere is the breadth of pattern more evident than in the Ferengi costume. Used as the comic element of the show, every Ferengi was always dressed in formal suits of at least three layers with metal clasps, buckles and ornimentation. You might guess that the vest and shirt were abbreviated, but Quark was sometimes shown without his jacket and you could see that each piece was fully tailored. The Ferengi are such a great example of the excellence of the DS9 costume design that we've devoted a gallery of enlargeable images to their genus.
Black and white
Even without colour in costumes, pattern was used extensively, often with numerous designs within a monochrome outfit, sometimes so subtly, it's hardly perceivable in the seconds they're on screen. But colour itself was often used to convey clues about the alien or humanoid's true nature. Many characters were costumed from head to toe in black, indicating their evil intent without speaking a word.
This 'good guy - bad guy' costuming tradition was cultivated to its natural culmination in Necessary Evil (Season 2, Episode 8) when a woman believed to be a widow in need of a favour starts off clothed entirely in white. Midway through the episode she wears a purple costume and by the end, when she's revealed to be a deceptive extortionist, she's wrapped (and arrested) in black.
A similar costuming tactic was used for characters of ambiguous moralities and confused principles or those who were tied to evil-doers, like the daughter of a Cardassian dictator or a father who had his son genetically altered illegally, out of love for his child.
Religion played a big part on the series and the clergy were given very brightly-coloured outfits, often with flowing robes and wraps and shaped headwear that denoted their rank.
Extremely ornate headpieces, often a part of elaborate wigs, were also often seen on the show.
A lot of movies and TV shows have tackled near future attire with disasterous results, going too far afield over too short a time. DS9 handled this masterfully in Past Tense (Season 3, Episode 11) when part of the crew is transported to 2024. Costumers wisely used restraint, kept the general, expected look of a unisex formal pant suit, but redesigned the necktie as a slim patterned piece of material inside the collar.
The future is asymmetric
Go far enough into the future, though, and many of the uniforms aren't uniform and much of the leisurewear is on a slant. Asymmetrial collars, necklines and hemlines were a frequent style factor in DS9 costumes.
You might not expect a space station to offer a lot of opportunity for black tie affairs. But then, you'd be forgetting about the holodeck, where all things are possible. Excursions to the halodecks in Quark's bar gave the crew plenty of chances to dress in tuxedos and gowns as they took part in Bond-style escapades, and a 1962 Las Vegas lounge simulation, even getting to pull off a sting as Deep Space Nine's Eight. Off of the station, Bajoran women were dressed in gowns to serve as 'companions' to their Cardassian oppressors during the occupation.
Some holodeck programs let the costume crew go all out in ways they'd never dream of without one.
The Dabo Girl
DS9 must be one of very few shows of its time (1993-1999) to come up with a clever way to confuse the censors with a nearly constant parade of not quite naked ladies in the Dabo girl. Dabo girls worked as waitresses and at the gaming tables of Quark's bar, barely dressed in costumes meant to distract the gamblers. We've got a Dabo girl gallery for you here.
Other scantily-clads were not contracted to Quark, but were for hire in other ways.
Some exceptions snuck in, again made possible by the holodeck, and a casino setting overrun by gangsters was ripe for a GoGo girl whose hips moved fast enough to make the pre-watershed cut.
Elsewhere, the more family-friendly female crew and guests often wore skintight catsuits while the men wore inoffensive wrap shirts when off duty.
Deep Space Nine also featured some of the best-dressed Klingons across the series, not least because the station was the setting of a traditional Klingon wedding in all its regalia.
With hardly a stitch missed, the extent of detail is impressive in the costumes on show in every episode - even down to the shoes. Though rarely ever seen (and then for only fractions of a second), women's shoes almost always matched the leggings or stockings of their wearer, a visual trick that gives women an extra long legged look. When they were on show, shoes were something very special.
Finally, for fun, we'll point out that among the 176 DS9 episodes there were the few threads that unraveled in the costume department. Observed: catsuits are not for everybody; there's a fine line between gutsy and goofy; and for some of the young man's appearances, Jake Sisko was an active member of the Wesley Crusher Crimes Of Fashion Fan Club.
But for the rest of the many hours in the seven seasons of Star Trek:Deep Space Nine, the costume design excelled and equalled or surpassed the wardrobes of many similar shows and even films.
We salute the craftspeople who played a part in costuming the crew and extras so expertly.