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Why Picard's Special Uniform Is More Important Than You Think

Star Trek: The Next Generation went through an evolving process with regard to their uniforms. For the first two seasons, most everyone was wearing incredibly tight onesies with boot straps. The goal was that there would be no wrinkles, and that worked! Unfortunately, there was a metaphorical wrinkle — the uniforms were so tight that the physically pained the actors wearing them. At the time there was only one other option: the skant, a version of the uniform that ends in a skirt. Both men and women background actors wore the skant on occasion, but the only lead cast member to ever wear it was Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and even that was temporary.

Much to the relief of most cast members, the standard Starfleet uniform was updated, beginning in season 3, by costume designer Robert Blackman. Rather than being one piece, the new uniform was a jacket and trousers.

However, there is one actor who got yet another version of their uniform: Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). The reason why his suit was changed is interesting, in more ways than you might guess. Let's talk about the genesis of the uniform, what it consists of, how it came to be, and how it seamlessly evolves the character of Jean-Luc Picard in ways you probably never even thought about.

Darmok and Jalad and a sweet, new suede jacket at Tanagra

The stardate is 45047.2, the actual date is September 30, 1991, and the episode is "Darmok." The Enterprise-D has been tasked with attempting to build The Children of Tama despite extreme difficulty in understanding their language. If you were alive when that episode first aired, you were likely very distracted for one very simple reason: the captain was wearing an open jacket. 

Yes, while everyone else was still in their normal uniforms, Captain Picard was tooling around in a suede coat with black, leather shoulders. And while the leather would ultimately be replaced with microsuede, we'd start seeing Picard in this outfit more and more often. The question is, where did this new jacket come from, and why? 

It turns out that Sir Patrick Stewart himself was interested in making Picard stand out, according to StarTrek.com. Robert Blackman, along with Stewart's input, set about making this new jacket to do exactly that. There's justification for a captain-specific uniform both within the continuity of Star Trek, and in real life: For example, on Star Trek: The Original Series, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) got his own wraparound tunic uniform. In real life, it's not uncommon for certain air carrier and submarine commanders to have a uniform specific to them.

But what makes this new uniform really interesting is the psychological component, as far as Picard himself. We've spent years with everyone but Troi perpetually wearing the same thing, and it's noteworthy that Picard, of all people, is the one to stretch his wings and wear something different. The reason, as it happens, is related to a rather dark incident with the Borg.

What it means for Picard to choose to stand out

Let's look a little further back for a moment. The stardate is 44001.4, the actual date is September 24, 1990, and the episode is "The Best of Both Worlds Part II." Captain Picard has been assimilated by the Borg. His identity has been ripped from him, all his knowledge has been devoured by the Collective, and they are using his face and his voice to act as ambassador while the Borg attempt to systematically dismantle the entirety of the Federation. Using Picard's knowledge and his body, the Borg invade the Alpha Quadrant, engage a fleet of Starfleet vessels, and obliterate them all. 

Eventually the crew of the Enterprise-D stop the Borg and save Picard's life, but the psychological damage is done. Picard has lost a part of himself, and, furthermore, must live with blood on his hands, even though he had no control of his actions.

Picard is, infamously, a bit of a stuffed shirt when we first meet him. After being assimilated by the Borg, it's safe to say that he crawls behind his stiff, public persona for safety. "Darmok" takes place almost exactly one year after Picard recovers from Borg assimilation. What makes that new uniform so interesting, then, is that it explicitly sets him apart from the rest of the crew: That suede coat is Picard expressing (and reclaiming) his individuality, even though he's usually so strict in his following of Starfleet rules. In essence, one year after being assimilated by a collective intelligence, Picard finally finds the strength to publicly declare that he is his own person, and that he has the right to stand out from the crowd.

That new jacket isn't just nice to look at, but is Picard's way of moving on from the Borg, and that's what makes the costume so special.