An Ode to Star Trek’s Undershirt Moments

An Ode to Star Trek’s Undershirt Moments

This week, Star Trek: Prodigy dropped the first trailer for its second season, and it’s full of all the sort of good Star Trek action you’d want—even more so if, like me, you’re a Voyager fan. But as a Voyager fan, there was one shot in particular that called to me: Admiral Janeway, her uniform jacket removed, down to her high-waisted pants and a grey, Starfleet-issue tank top.

This is a ludicrous thing to have your attention drawn to, but being a Star Trek fan often involves having reactions and emotions about ludicrous things. And yet, here I was: tank top Janeway? Oh man, shit’s about to go down. To me, that’s “Macrocosm” Janeway, Ripley-ing her way through giant virus bugs on the compromised Voyager. It’s “Year of Hell” Janeway, hobbling through Krenim space as her ship and crew are picked apart around her.

Gif: Paramount

Sometimes the situations surrounding stripped-down Star Trekmoments aren’t dire at all; we’ve seen people rocking the look casually, on hot planets, while working on something particularly strenuous. What, exactly, Starfleet officers wore under their black and division-color-accented uniforms from TNG onwards has always been in flux—there’s long-sleeved undershirts, vests like Janeway’s, t-shirts, all with varying design differences—but regardless of what was under them, regardless of the Trek show or the character, every time you saw them, it felt like you were witnessing something vulnerable, something revealing.

We’re so used to the way the Starfleet uniforms look—and the situations they’re almost always worn in—that they become this symbol of professionalism-under-pressure that encapsulates Star Trek’s love of competence porn. You’re wearing that uniform on the bridge, you’re wearing it under fire, you’re wearing it at the bar, you’re wearing it on away missions, you’re wearing it knee-deep in isolinear chips working on some panel in the ass end of a Jeffries tube. No matter the situation, arguably no matter how impractical, a Starfleet officer does their job in that uniform, looking like a Starfleet officer. So when you strip away layers of that uniform, out of necessity or out of casual circumstance, you’re stripping away the layers of that mythos around it and revealing something about the person underneath.

Screenshot: Paramount

Think about the dishevelled look Sisko has by the end of “In the Pale Moonlight”, where, in the interstitial scenes set in the present, he increasingly undresses layers of his uniform until he’s in an unbuttoned vest and his command undershirt is zipped down to reveal his chest, embodying his reflection of the moral sacrifices he’s made over the course of the episode. Or how Picard in First Contact, the direr the situation gets, strips down further until he’s in nothing in his vest and trousers by the time he’s squaring off with the Borg Queen. The rare times we actually saw one of our heroes either in a situation casual enough to not warrant their full uniform, or stressful enough that they felt like they had to strip away parts of it, are somehow burned into your minds as significant—like they are for me when I see Janeway in that tank top, like it’s a different mode or form of her.

It’s such a small, but clever bit of visual storytelling in Star Trek that doesn’t often come up all that much—but when it does, it hits something primal in your Trek-loving brain to draw attention to its significance.

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