Unexpected Historical Costumes – Star Trek Voyager


Sometimes historical costuming takes you by surprise. You’re there watching one of your favorite science-fiction space dramas when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, there’s historical clothing on your TV screen. And sometimes, those surprise historical costumes are actually really quite good. A perfect example of this is what happens in Star Trek: Voyager episodes “Cathexis,” “Learning Curve,” and “Persistence of Vision.” These three episodes depict Captain Janeway’s holo-novel, “Janeway Lambda One,” which is set in “Ancient England” (i.e., the 24th-century conception of 1840-50ish England) and is basically Jane Eyre as far as plot goes. Voyager costumer Robert Blackman oversaw the costumes for the entire Star Trek franchise in the late ’80s and through the ’90s.

In an interview with StarTrek.com, Blackman mentions his reluctance to interview for the costume designer position on Star Trek: The Next Generation, stating:

I spent 20 years on the 19th century, why in the heck would I want to try to figure out what the 24th century is about? I’m not a futurist — I don’t have any sense of the stuff. I deal with present to past.

And it’s obvious in these three episodes that feature “Janeway Lambda One,” that he feels very much at home in the 19th century. However, since these three episodes aren’t some of the most popular Star Trek Voyager episodes, I’ve been unable to turn up any information on whether or not the costumes were designed and made by Blackman’s team or if they were pulled from Paramount’s stock.

Let’s take a look at the characters, starting with the Captain’s character Lucille “Lucy” Davenport, the new governess for the noble Burleigh family. Her gown consists of a plaid jacket and skirt, over a cream-colored waistcoat. The jacket is trimmed in dark red ruched velvet.

Star Trek Voyager

The Netflix streaming copy of this episode isn’t that great, but I’m pretty sure Janeway’s dress is taffeta, possibly silk.

Star Trek Voyager

I love the maid’s outfit and hair, but you barely catch a glimpse of her in the episode. Also, note the attention to detail in Janeway’s blouse and the little locket pin on her left breast.

Star Trek Voyager

Note the buttons at the points of the double diamond pattern design on her sleeves.

Star Trek Voyager

She’s not wearing a crinoline under her skirts. This was probably due to space restrictions on set (the Burleigh set is pretty cramped) as almost all of the shots are close-ups or from the waist-up.

Janeway’s costume is not a direct reproduction of any particular gown or fashion plate, but it has elements of several early 1850s day dresses that I’ve run across in my research. The most strikingly similar is the orange gown on the right of this fashion plate, showing the same jacket and waistcoat arrangement:

Le Conseiller des dames et demoiselles, 1851-1852.

Le Conseiller des dames et demoiselles, 1851-1852.

Another example of a similar style is this blue plaid gown from 1850, showing ruched trim on the edges of the jacket and lace engageants:

La Belle Assemblee, September 1850.

La Belle Assemblee, September 1850.

Next up is Mrs. Templeton, the menacing housekeeper who is threatened by Lucy’s arrival in the Burliegh home. Here the contrast between the decades in Janeway’s 1850s gown and Mrs. Davenport’s 1840s gown makes sense — Mrs.Templeton is older, conservative, set in her ways. Lucy is younger and more fashionable.

Still, I think Mrs. Templeton’s gown is by far the best, both in terms of general styling, as well as in the tailoring. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find clearer full length images of Mrs. Templeton on the Internet, but no luck. The dress is really pretty, and honestly, if you copied it literally, you could probably waltz into Dickens Fair and pass for one of the actors. I’m having a hard time believing that this gown was made specifically for this run of episodes, but to my knowledge, I’ve never seen it pop up again in another film. So either it was rented from an amazing kick-ass costumer, or it was made by the Star Trek Voyager costume elves and then put into storage never to be seen again.

Star Trek Voyager

That right there is pretty much the platonic ideal of bound edges. SO FLAT AND THE CORNERS ARE SO CRISP. *bites fist*

Star Trek Voyager

“Tea? Bitchface? Why not both?”

Star Trek Voyager

The button detailing! EEEEEEE!

Star Trek Voyager

Definitely silk taffeta bound in silk satin. Whoever made this was amazingly good.

Star Trek Voyager

The best I could come up with as far as a full-length shot of the dress goes.

Like Lucy’s outfit, I don’t think Mrs. Templeton’s dress is based on any one extant piece or fashion plate, but it certainly references key elements of late-1840s fashion.

1840s gown

The short cap sleeve over a long, tightly fitted undersleeve of the same fabric shows up frequently in the late-1840s.

Graham's, 1841.

Self fabric used as piping or binding was also a popular method of decorating gowns during this era. Graham’s, 1841.

The one adult male character in the holo-novel, Lord Burleigh, also has a nice 1850s outfit:

Star Trek Voyager

Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say about it.

Star Trek Voyager

Well, other than that’s a demmed fine cravat!


I know there’s a lot of you costume-obsessed people who are also Star Trek-obsessed, so if anyone has more info on the costumes depicted in Janeway’s holonovel, I’d love to hear about it!


Has a TV show surprised you with historical costumes? Tell us about it in the comments!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

10 Responses

  1. Michael McQuown

    The other sci-fi show that occasionally showcases period costume is Dr Who. Recently, Clara Oswald had several eps in a Victorian dress, and they’ve run from Roman times forward.

      • MoHub

        Doctor Who started as a family show on Saturday afternoons, and part of its original mission was to teach children history in an entertaining way. The earliest historicals included “The Aztecs,” “The Romans,” “The Crusade, ” “The Gunfighters,” and “The Massacre.” The only science-fiction aspect in the early historicals was the arrival of the Doctor and his companions in the TARDIS, but the history lessons being taught were pretty straightforward.

  2. Maeve

    I think the same can be said for the costumes in the Star Trek Voyager episodes where they go to “Fair Haven” on the holodeck

  3. CatnipTARDIS

    TNG had some great period episodes, too, even winning a few Emmys for costume design. It’s been too long since seeing any for me to remember how accurate they are though.

  4. Lady Smatter

    I have such a soft spot for Star Trek’s “historical” episodes! Have you checked out the screencap horde at trekcore? They generally have tons of high-quality images for each episode. Here’s a link to the “Cathexis” gallery: http://voy.trekcore.com/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=84 They do have a few different angles of Mrs. Templeton’s grey outfit.
    I learned about trekcore through the ‘Fashion It So’ blog, which does delightfully snarky fashion-centric reviews of Next Generation episodes: http://sttngfashion.tumblr.com/
    Does it say something about me that I follow more than one snarky costume review blog?

    • Angela

      Wow, cool link that I’ve never heard of. I’m hoping to read snark on Troi’s and Crusher’s “24th century” late-1980s workout wear that only worsens with time.