Star Trek Uniform Horror Stories – The Final Phase

To complete my series on mishaps and difficulties with Trek uniform costuming attempts, I am going to start out with what would appear to be a horror story.  The great part is that, although the uniform itself and the circumstances surrounding its aborted creation may have been horrific, the ending is a very happy one IMHO.

Stardate: 1986.6 – By the age of 19 I had already done several things that a geek like me wouldn’t have been expected to, at least according to Bill Shatner’s “evil Captain Kirk” from Saturday Night Live.  I had most definitely kissed a girl and I had already moved out of my parents’ basement and gotten my own apartment (with the lovely girl I had kissed, I might add).

I really was incredibly lucky to have fallen in love with someone so intelligent and beautiful but, to my added good fortune, she was also almost as much the Star trek fan that I was. We had purchased our first VCR (a BetaMax – LOL, I’m old!!) and the first pre-recorded movie we acquired was, of course, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  The TOS episodes weren’t readily available on Beta yet so we got a bunch of blank tapes and started recording them from TV.  This way we’d have a monster collection of Trek shows to watch whenever we wanted.  We also worked diligently on collecting every paperback in the PocketBooks Star Trek series and read them all many times over.  We had just made tentative plans to attend a Star Trek convention – it would have been our first together – when this particular horror story began to unfold.

We thought it would be pretty cool to participate in the costume parade at the con and we each had a favorite uniform from the TV series that we planned to wear.  Mine was to be Kirk’s alternate command tunic – the green wraparound.  My lovely girl would have donned Uhura’s revealing mirror universe uniform.  Unfortunately, neither of us knew the first thing about constructing a homemade Trek uniform costume.  Although, at least my girlfriend knew how to sew and had made some garments in the past.  If memory serves, we didn’t have any patterns either and there certainly was no World Wide Web as we now know it through which to order them or do any research.   We did have some reference books to work from (The Making of Star Trek, The Starfleet Technical Manual, and Bjo Trimble’s excellent Star Trek Concordance) but otherwise we were on our own. By far our biggest impediment though was that we were almost always broke, so we didn’t have a lot of money to put into these costumes to begin with.

We picked up some cheap (and dreadfully wrong) material and tried to get underway.  My girl’s fabric was a bright red double-knit … definitely on the right track but too bright and too thin, almost like a crepe.  Mine was very dark green, way too dark really, and was similar to the material from which bedsheets are made…so it had no flex/stretch capability whatsoever.  Undaunted we began our project anyway.  I think my girlfriend drew out something akin to a pattern for my shirt and she then cut the individual sections accordingly.  I don’t remember if she had cut out all the pieces and was assembling the final garment or if she had just done a few basic pieces to put together a mock-up.  Either way, before long I had a front and back connected to a right sleeve.  The fit was awkward and the material didn’t lay well on my torso.  Nevertheless, it was coming together.  But given everything I’ve just described, it was questionable whether this costume would be usable at all – and therein lies the first horror story.   The second, and much bigger, horror story is that we left that green shirt half finished – that was as far as we ever got on it.  The sexy red mirror universe uniform never even got started.

For a multitude of reasons that probably have no place being published in a Star Trek blog, we broke up at the beginning of that summer, having never attended the convention or even finished the costumes.  Although I initially thought there was hope of getting back together, I blinked my eyes and months had gone by.  Suddenly it was a year – then two. We each ended up marrying and starting our own families, neither seeing nor speaking to each other as two years became five and so on.

What makes this such a terrific story is the happy ending I alluded to earlier.  We two geeks each knew that we were meant to be together.  In a way it was almost like one of those great Star Trek stories in which destiny is fulfilled even if there is sadness along the way.  More than ten years after we had originally begun dating and nearly eight years since we had last spoken, we met at our tenth high school reunion and picked up where we left off.  Now we are rapidly approaching our fifteenth wedding anniversary and our Trek fandom hasn’t waned.  In fact, our thirteen year old son and I will soon be attending Creation Star Trek 2011 in Las Vegas – and we will be doing so in full uniforms created by none other than my lovely girl.

I will be blogging from the con and undoubtedly posting photos of my new and improved green Kirk wraparound tunic.  But no photos or blog posts can accurately convey the most important facet of this tale – even though the blog topic is “Horror Stories”, my time with the incredible woman described herein has been the antithesis of a horror story!  She completes me and I her.  And our shared love of all things Star Trek is one example among many of how our fate was “in the stars”!

Star Trek Uniform Horror Stories – Phase 1

It is a fact of Trek fandom that hardcore Trekkies (or Trekkers, or whatever people of my ilk are being called these days) can’t resist playing dress up.  In any other realm this fascination with costumes would probably be confined to small children.  However, sci-fi fans are cut from a different mold and the almost obsessive desire to dress the part of one’s favorite character doesn’t end with adulthood.  In fact, it almost seems that it gets stronger.  Nonetheless, the first entry in this series of costume tales does concern a small child – namely: me.

When I was about 7 or 8 years old (many moons ago) the Mego company introduced a line of Star Trek toys.  The “Star Trek Lives!” phenomenon I described in my last post was at its peak and so it was altogether fitting that the stars of my favorite show began doing personal appearances at retail stores to promote the new Mego toys.  I had been dying to have a gold Star Trek tunic anyway and, to my knowledge, Donmoor had yet to release their collection of excellent Trek uniform shirts – or if they had, my mother didn’t know about it.  All the same, she was willing to aid me in my quest to have a custom-made Captain Kirk tunic in which to greet Mr. Leonard Nimoy when he came to Alexander’s Department Store in New Jersey.

We had already attended the International Star Trek Convention in New York City and thanks to my Mom’s good nature (and deep pockets) my brother and I came home with very convincing Enterprise insignia patches and patterns for uniform shirts.  When the Nimoy appearance was announced I pleaded with Mom to make my special shirt post-haste.  I don’t know where she found it but my mother was able to acquire a bolt of beautiful double-knit material that was the perfect solid gold on one side and had a gold-on-white houndstooth pattern on the other side.  She also got a great little piece of black material for the collar and very accurate gold braid for the sleeves.  So begins the horror story.

Mom’s only sewing machine was a 100 year old Singer treadle model that she had gotten from her grandmother.  She knew the Star Trek uniform backwards and forwards from having watched the show with me so many times and having taken me to the early cons. She also knew that there was no way she’d be able to put together such a complex garment in such a short period on that antique machine.  So she boxed up all the material, the pattern, the braid, and insignia and shipped them to her good friend in another state who was a sewing wiz with a top-of-the-line modern machine.  She assured me that I’d have my shirt in time for our date with destiny.

If memory serves, the package with my prized tunic arrived a day or two before the Leonard Nimoy appearance.  I’m pretty sure it was summertime but it may as well have been Christmas as I was so excited to open that box!  Then – – – utter and complete horror!  My mother’s friend had done an incredible job.  Every stitch was perfect.  The collar, the insignia, the captain’s rank braids were all in just the right places.  But our family friend, who wouldn’t recognize an episode of Star Trek if her life depended on it, had made the shirt with the houndstooth pattern facing outward and the solid gold inward.  I was crushed.  This would never do!  I’m fairly sure I cried when Mom told me there was no time to fix it and I’m certain I cried when she forced me to wear it to Alexander’s anyway.  It was one of those things that parents do when they’ve totally forgotten what it feels like to be a kid – “Yes, you have to wear it.  Connie worked very hard on this for you and you will wear it!”.

Unlike some childhood horror stories, this one has not one, but two happy endings.  I think I was still wiping away tears when we reached the front of the line at Alexander’s Department Store and I shook Mr. Nimoy’s hand.  Being a parent himself, and just a plain classy guy – he didn’t miss a beat when he said to me, “That is a fantastic uniform shirt!  Very original.  I really love it!”.  Leonard Nimoy made my day that summer afternoon at Alexander’s.  Some 15 years later I had the opportunity to meet him again at a Trek con in New York City.  When I relayed the story of the tunic gone wrong he remembered, laughed out loud, and told me how fortunate I was to have a mother who’d go to such lengths to please her son.  And he was right.