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May 12, 2013

Mini Skirts in ‘Star Trek’ (1966)

In the early 1960s the average stewardess uniform was a tailored suit with a nod toward military styling, but by mid-decade the uniforms were becoming increasingly fashionable, with “wild” colors and shorter skirts. Some details such as the front skirt flap and the outline of Yeoman Janice Rand’s checkerboard hairstyle appeared in LIFE magazine just before William “Bill” Ware Theiss, a gay costume designer at the beginning of his career, began designing his costumes.

The miniskirt portion of the costume was a brand new trend at the time. Some stories about the first miniskirts place them mere months before Theiss’s design. The idea for their use on Star Trek is usually attributed to Grace Lee Whitney, the actress who portrayed Yeoman Rand, who suggested short skirts after being told to present an “undercurrent of suppressed sexuality” between herself and Captain Kirk, but sex appeal certainly played a role either way since the studio had asked for sexier costumes after those velour tunics (and black pants for men and women) in the pilot episodes. Theiss obliged, especially when designing for guest actresses, originating the “Theiss Titillation Theory” that sex appeal lies not in the amount of skin shown, but rather in the relative likelihood of a costume falling off. Many of his costumes appear precarious indeed, but it must be said that women’s Starfleet uniforms look quite secure in comparison.

For feminist critics, miniskirts are a consistent focal point and often assumed to be a sexist symbol, particularly since women were “forced” to wear them as part of their uniforms. However, when the costumes were designed and originally worn, perceptions were very different. Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura (the most visible woman on the show and a groundbreaking character for racial integration), discussed the issue in her autobiography:
In later years, especially as the women’s movement took hold in the seventies, people began to ask me about my costume. Some thought it “demeaning” for a woman in the command crew to be dressed so sexily. It always surprised me because I never saw it that way. After all, the show was created in the age of the miniskirt, and the crew women’s uniforms were very comfortable. Contrary to what many may think today, no one really saw it as demeaning back then. In fact, the miniskirt was a symbol of sexual liberation. More to the point, though, in the twenty-third century, you are respected for your abilities regardless of what you do or do not wear.

(via Retrospace)



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