Review of Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier by Paula M. Block
Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier
by Paula M. Block
This book was an indulgence: its price is US$60, which means in Canada it’s closer to $80 (although Chapters was selling it online at a considerable discount, so I didn’t pay even close to that). But it’s totally worth it. This book is as gorgeous as you would expect. It’s a coffee-table book, oversized and weighty, its pages thick and glossy and covered with colour photos of costumes, stills, and concept art. I mean, it is hard to mess up a tie-in book like this, but Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier is definitely worth $60–$80 of your hard-earned money, if you have the money and you are a Trek fan. (If you’re the latter but lack the former, I hear people will buy you things if you have birthdays. If you’re a robot, then you are out of luck.)
Although I read and enjoyed many tie-in novels when I was younger, these days I tend to eschew them—without the actors bringing life to the characters, the stories feel flatter to me. Non-fiction companions are a different story. Like many fans, I just love hearing behind-the-scenes anecdotes and getting a peek at how the shows and movies were made. Unlike sausages and law, seeing the secrets in the process—and the slip-ups or improvisations—do not ruin the magic one bit. If anything, hearing these stories make me feel closer to a franchise that has been around longer than I’ve been alive. For example, most fans will have heard about the “Theiss Titillation Theory” and the network’s crusade against nipples or belly buttons in the 1960s; or about the infamously uncomfortable, back-straining uniforms of the first two seasons of TNG. But I didn’t know that Worf’s baldric changed between the first and second season because the original, which might or might not be the same as one used in TOS, was wearing out. I didn’t know about the painstaking care that went into designing the civilian costumes for the TOS cast to wear in Star Trek III.
Indeed, it is impossible to walk away from this book without even more respect and no small amount of awe for the costume designers and other personnel associated with the costuming process. These people are wizards. Think about it for a moment: they get asked to imagine entire alien societies every week and produce clothing that looks distinctive and interesting using the same old boring fabrics available on Earth. And they have to do it cheaply. Sometimes for costumes that might only get a few minutes of screen time—or none, if the scene gets cut. The creativity and innovative spirit of these people have contributed to so much of Star Trek’s success over the past fifty years. As someone who grew up loving and influenced by Trek, I owe them a huge debt. And I’m grateful that Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann were able to bring this book to my table.
The book proceeds chronologically through the series, as these types of retrospectives invariably do. It spends much more time on TOS, the movies, and TNG than the other series, which are just lumped under “the spin-offs”. On one hand, I totally understand: this is a large book as it is, expensive to print, heavy to handle, so there are trade-offs. Decisions must be made about what can go in and what has to be left out. On the other hand, there is just so much that isn’t talked about here. We hear about the various uniform redesigns, but aside from one or two (sometimes strange) choices of alien garments from each series, there are so many episodic costumes that have been left out. I have so many questions! You never explained to me why the Ullians wear Swiss cheese outfits that make my eyes hurt when I look at them? (They do talk about Lwaxana’s outfits, at least.)
There is not much else for me to say. This is a gorgeous, excellent addition to any fan’s collection. (Even the cover of the hardback beneath the dust jacket is fantastic.) I highly recommend it!