How do you dress Mr. Spock in a post-Wolverine world?

The problem no doubt bedevilled director J.J. Abrams and costume designer Michael Kaplan as they set out to make their new Star Trek film. But it looks like they got it right.

Following its opening last week, Trek has proved itself a critical darling and commercial juggernaut — a sci-fi movie that feels contemporary despite constant visual references to its 1966 TV-series roots.

“It didn’t look like too much had changed, but it still felt sleek and modern,” Dino-Ray Ramos, a fashion writer for, says of the film’s costuming. “It was wise for them not to dress the character in black leather like in the X-Men films.”

Wise indeed. Original Trek is steeped in a colour palette straight out of the psychedelic 1960s. A reboot featuring leather trenches and black Ray-Bans instead of mustard pullovers and micro-miniskirts would have been sacrilege.

Dorothy Baca teaches design for performance at the University of New Mexico and was the costume supervisor on the 1997 film Batman and Robin. She says the original Trek and the equally candy-coloured 1966-68 Batman TV series made loud fashion statements for a loud cultural moment.

“They were indicative of what was going on in the youth culture at that time,” Baca says. “If you look at the ’60s in terms of clothing and fashion, it’s the first time we see a huge boom of things marketed toward young people.”

That led commercial and couture designers of the day to create looks that reflected not just a counter-cultural colour scheme, but an obsession with space exploration at a time when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were racing to put a man on the moon. Ramos sees echoes of Pierre Cardin’s work in the updated Trek costuming.

“The uniforms immediately reminded me of his mid-century modern space-age collection,” Ramos says. “He did this ’60s spacey look.”

But bright colours and mid-century enthusiasm have given way to dark characters wearing dark clothes. Ramos points to 2000’s X-Men and the black, leather superhero costumes designed by Louise Mingenbach — who also worked on this summer’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine — as the turning point. So why did kitsch and colour disappear from science fiction films?

“We’re seeing so much black leather is because our society has changed so much and our youth culture has changed quite a bit,” Baca says. “The average teen male is probably more jaded, a little bit more worldly than in mid-century. And that’s who’s going to see these movies.”

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