Starfleet officers in STAR TREK: The Original Series typically wear rank insignia in the form of braid attached to their uniform sleeves.
Braid is gold in overall colour and worn on Service Uniforms and Service Dress Uniforms, but not on Full Dress Uniforms or Working Uniforms. (More detail on uniform variants is given below.)
Stripes of braid appear in three varieties:
- Solid stripes are continuous and adorned with helices.
- Broken stripes consist of a series of evenly-spaced dashes.
- Wide stripes are thick bands of gold with ornate trim on the edges.
Junior and Senior Officer rank insignia utilise solid stripes and broken stripes, while Flag Officer rank insignia utilise wide stripes and solid stripes.
N.B.- Broken stripes are also sometimes referred to as "half-stripes". For example, a Lieutenant Commander might be described as wearing "one and a half stripes".
Rank Insignia Chart
Junior & Senior Officers
Lieutenant Junior Grade
N.B.- Officer Division colours are for illustrative purposes only.
Sleeve Insignia & Braid Specifications
As a standard, rank braid is sewn onto both sleeves starting 2" from the bottom of the cuff.
There does not appear to be a precise measurement for the distance between stripes. It is approximately the width of one solid stripe — seeming sometimes slightly less or slightly more. Of greatest importance to aesthetics is that all stripes are equidistant.
Solid stripes are sewn into the inner sleeve seam. (The common knowledge that "insignia were removed daily for cleaning" is only necessarily in relation to the breast insignia, on which the gold foil could easily become damaged. The amount of effort required to do the same with rank insignia would be heroic.)
TOS Season 1 Braid Considerations
The earliest Season 1 uniforms utilised "reverse braid" (as it is now called), in which the helices and individual dashes both leaned to the viewer's right.
Broken stripes were initially in a dense configuration, with 7 dashes per stripe on average.
During the season, reverse braid was phased out in favour of what we now consider standard braid – with left-leaning helices and dashes – that remained in use until the end of the series.
Broken stripes were made more moderate, with 6 dashes becoming the average number.
Uniforms with the reverse braid and dense broken stripes were replaced naturally over time. A screencap from “Operation -- Annihilate!” [1x29] shows both configurations still in use at the end of Season 1:
TOS Season 3 Braid Considerations
As of “Spectre of the Gun” [3x01], the velour uniforms were abandoned for a complete wardrobe department change-over to nylon double-knit. (This is when the command uniform colour became the infamous shade of avocado that photographed yellow, rather than actual gold!)
Along with the new stretch fabric, men's shirt hemlines were lengthened: the body now went to the hips rather than the waist, and the sleeves went to the top of the hand instead of stopping above the wrist bone.
By Season 3, broken stripes were in a sparse configuration as the norm, with an average of 5 dashes per stripe:
Service Uniforms and Service Dress Uniforms
Service Uniforms and Service Dress Uniforms are the two variants upon which rank braid is worn.
According to Navy regulations, Service Uniforms would be the official term for the so-called "standard duty uniforms" that we're all familiar with. (The latter term was never spoken in TOS; it may have entered the common vernacular through the non-canon "STAR FLEET TECHNICAL MANUAL" (1975) by Franz Joseph.)
Dress Uniforms have several on-screen mentions, with the first being in “Journey to Babel” [2x15]:
MCCOY: Dress uniforms, spit and polish. I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to stand this.
However, many are not aware that two distinct varieties of dress uniform appeared: a less formal Service Dress Uniform and a more formal Full Dress Uniform.
Both utilise the same basic garments, but differ in that:
- Full Dress Uniforms display medals & awards on the left breast, but do not display breast insignia or rank braid. Grade is indicated solely through the presence, degree, and type of trim and piping.
- Service Dress Uniforms display the familiar breast insignia and rank braid as worn on Service Uniforms, but do not display medals or awards.
Full Dress Uniforms are worn almost exclusively throughout the series, and are specifically named as a variant twice in “The Savage Curtain” [3x22]:
KIRK: It's obvious he believes it. Doctor McCoy, Mister Spock, full dress uniforms.
SCOTT: Full dress? Presidential honours? What is this nonsense, Mister Dickerson?
However, “Court Martial” [1x14] stands apart: while the officers of the board wear Full Dress Uniforms, we observe the prosecution (Lieutenant Areel Shaw) and the clerk (un-named Ensign) wearing Service Dress Uniforms in numerous scenes:
N.B.- Dress uniforms are also referred to by fans as formal tunics or formal uniforms. While the description isn't inaccurate, there is no instance in TOS where they are named as such. The closest related statement is Dr McCoy describing the delegate gathering at which they are worn in “Journey to Babel” [2x15] as
a formal reception.
Enlisted Ranks and Working Uniforms
There are no enlisted rank insignia that we're aware of — namely because there are no enlisted men "per se" serving onboard the U.S.S. Enterprise or other Starships like her during the 2260s.
The crewmen that are regularly seen working in coveralls in the background are of at least Ensign rank, and do not represent enlisted members (as they are sometimes assumed to).
Suffice it to say here:
- That Starship officers, crew, and personnel are all synonymous (and interchangeable) terms; and
- that references to officers in Service Uniform with job titles akin to enlisted ratings are not script errors; and
- that analogous to the U.S. Navy, Starfleet issues its officers with Working Uniforms for more labour-intensive duties; and
- that no rank insignia is worn upon Working Uniforms.
Extensive explanation is given in the article on Ratings and Enlisted Men.
Additional Notes by Rank
Admiral ranks up to and including the Navy-equivalent "5-star" Fleet Admiral are recognised in Starfleet, as discovered through Dr McCoy's quip in “Space Seed” [1x24]:
MCCOY: Very impressive. Are we expecting a fleet admiral for dinner?
No admiral rank insignia was ever seen in TOS, despite several admirals appearing on viewscreens. Thankfully the wardrobe department (perhaps not aware of how tight the camera angle would be) still attached commensurate braid onto Admiral Fitzpatrick's uniform for “The Trouble with Tribbles” [2x13].
- Analogous to the flag officer insignia of the U.S. Navy, the "one star" wide stripe for Commodore remains present, and one solid stripe is added for each additional level of rank (making Fizpatrick a Vice Admiral specifically).
- In contrast to naval tradition, Starfleet places the wide stripe in the middle of any additional stripes.
Thus, the one remaining question from the Fitzpatrick insignia was whether an odd number of solid stripes would favour placement above or below the wide stripe. Going outside the realm of TOS by necessity, the "best answer" was provided by Rear Admiral Kirk's rank insignia in STAR TREK: The Motion Picture, which consisted of one solid stripe placed above one wide stripe.
Historically, Commodore may or may not be classified as a flag rank in any given force, but two lines of dialogue in “The Deadly Years” [2x11] establish that it is in Starfleet:
STOCKER: As a Starfleet flag officer, I must follow regulations.
STOCKER: Since the senior officers are incapable and I am of flag rank, I am forced by regulations to assume command.
All Commodores wore the same rank insignia: a single wide stripe. However, two styles of stripe appeared, with differing edge trims.
- Stone in “Court Martial” [1x14]
- J.I. Mendez in “The Menagerie, Part I” [1x15]
- Matt Decker in “The Doomsday Machine” [2x06]
The real reason behind the change isn't known, but due to the progression of episodes, it can be said that Starfleet altered the style of its Flag Officer braid during TOS Season 2.
N.B.- The original "wavy" trim remains superior in keeping the wide stripe visually distinct from additional solid stripes. Any Commodore is difficult to mistake, but utilising standard braid as trim can easily give the illusion of two stripes too many on an Admiral's insignia.
Two officers of current or former Fleet Captain rank appear in TOS:
- Christopher Pike in “The Menagerie, Part I” [1x15] & “The Menagerie, Part II” [1x16]
- Garth of Izar in “Whom Gods Destroy” [3x16]
Unfortunately, neither was seen in uniform as such: with the former being severely disabled and the latter in an insane asylum.
It seems that this rank is bestowed sparingly upon captains of great renown, and venerated. We don't know if it is in any way analogous to the U.S. Navy's Fleet captain title of the 19th century — nor do we know if its rarity is entirely due to special protocol surrounding the rank itself, or if that is bolstered by a minimal number of situations in which a promoted Captain wouldn't be made a Commodore.
The given insignia for Fleet Captain has been conjectured by various sources, and is logical. A single wide stripe cannot be present until flag rank (given that it is the canon insignia of a Commodore). Moreover, Kirk's two-and-a-half stripe Captain's insignia perpetually hints at the possibility of an even higher three-stripe version.
The rank of Fleet Captain will undoubtedly continue to be a hot topic for discussion and speculation, but it is not advisable to utilise it without excellent cause and back-story.
Commander / Lieutenant Commander
Although the rank insignia of Commander and Lieutenant Commander are not in dispute, they were interestingly plagued with several recurring errors during TOS Season 1:
- In “Court Martial” [1x14], Commander Spock is incorrectly referred to as a
Lieutenant Commanderby the computer reading his file. Conversely, Lieutenant Commander Ben Finney wears the rank insignia of a full Commander.
- The next episode filmed – “The Menagerie, Part I” [1x15] – sees Commander Spock again being referred to as a
Lieutenant Commander, this time in Kirk's log.
- In a repeat of the Ben Finney error, Lieutenant Commander Giotto's rank insignia in “The Devil in the Dark” [1x26] is also that of a full Commander. (He is addressed several times simply as
Commander Giotto, but the dialogue twice specifies that his rank is Lieutenant Commander.)
Lieutenant Junior Grade
It has been theorised in various fan forums that a junior lieutenant rank was not meant to exist, and that Mr Tormolen was conceived of as a full Lieutenant. Given the other Season 1 hiccups with Commander versus Lieutenant Commander rank insignia, this doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility. His
You don't rank me line to Lieutenant Sulu and the subsequent absence of this rank in STAR TREK: The Motion Picture can be cited as supporting evidence.
The real reason for its scarcity might be simple production practicality: if a wardrobe department is tasked with constructing numerous Ensign and Lieutenant stock uniforms for guest and background performers, sewing many individual dashes is significantly more time consuming than sewing solid stripes.
Whether intentional or not, this rank insignia exists, yet remains something of an anomaly in TOS.
Cadet / Midshipman
Cadets at Starfleet Academy are identified by their distinctive silver-grey shirts, and do not appear to wear any form of rank insignia. Finnegan in “Shore Leave” [1x17] was described by Kirk as
an upperclassman, but wore only a breast insignia on his uniform.
The distinction between cadet and midshipman was never clarified in dialogue; both terms are certainly in use:
- Captain Kirk recalls his Academy days as a
midshipmanonce in “Court Martial” [1x14], but as a
cadetthree times in “Whom Gods Destroy” [3x16].
- Commodore Mendez states in “The Menagerie, Part I” [1x15] that Christopher Pike's accident occurred on an
inspection tour of a cadet vessel.
- Spock explaining dunsel (a slang term) in “The Ultimate Computer” [2x24] states that it is
used by midshipmen at Starfleet Academy.
Going back to basics, Wikipedia defines Midshipman as
an officer cadet or a commissioned officer candidate of the junior-most rank.
The simplest solution is therefore that "cadets" is a generic term for students enrolled at Starfleet Academy (in the same way that "officers" describes those that have graduated and received commissions), while Midshipman is the actual rank that a cadet holds in this era.
- Rank Insignia Chart images created by Kuro-chan of Kuro-RPG.
- Dialogue quotations from Chrissie's Transcripts Site.
- Star Trek: TOS screencaps from TrekCore.