Why Men Wore Mini-Skirts on "Star Trek: The Next Generation"

Man wearing a skant on Star Trek

Every now and then, it comes up. Someone watches an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They look in the background, and they ask the question: "Why is that man wearing a mini-skirt?"

The answer is rooted in both sexism and non-sexism, Star Trek's claim to be all about equality, and the reality of pandering to male fans to boost ratings.

There are few more controversial elements about the original Star Trek series than the Starfleet mini-skirt. In the classic series, men of Starfleet had a wide variety of uniforms. They wore pants with shirts, pants with jackets, pants with tunics, and variations in-between. But women of Starfleet almost without exception wore dresses. In fact, the majority of them wore mini-skirts.

An interesting note is that in the original unused Star Trek pilot "The Cage," female Starfleet crew wore pants just like the men. In the reshot pilot, the women were dressed in skirts and remained so for the rest of the classic series. (This wasn't the only change that the studio forced on the production as a step away from feminism. The studio also demanded they cut a female first officer named Number One.)

How Fans Received the Mini-Skirts

Later on, Star Trek fans began to criticize the mini-skirts. They said such overt sexualization of the women on the show contradicted its claims of feminism and equality. Star Trek made bold strides for television at the time, when women were rarely seen in positions of power, and women of color even less so. But this was a glaring exception. The situation only got worse as society moved out of the sixties and into the seventies and eighties.

Of course, Star Trek could have just said, "Yeah, we admit it. We just wanted some cheesecake on the show." But that doesn't fit the narrative of Star Trek being a place for equality and feminism and multiculturalism and what-not.

Mini-Skirts for Male Star Trek Characters

When people began to complain, the Trek community's response was, "Nuh-uh! The mini-skirts weren't sexist! Because, uh, men wore them, too! It was unisex!" This seems to have been most clearly stated in 1995's The Art of Star Trek. In it, the book says, "The skirt design for men 'skant' [a combination of "skirt and pant"] was a logical development, given the total equality of the sexes presumed to exist in the 24th century."

Of course, this is easier said than done. The next question would always be, "So where were all the men in mini-skirts on the original series?" The answer would be that there were some, but you just didn't see them, which left uncomfortable stares and raised eyebrows. That gap is what Star Trek: The Next Generation tried to fill.

The "Skant"

When the pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint" aired in 1987, the skant is worn by both Deanna Troi and Tasha Yar (briefly). But we also get our first glimpse of the male skant in the background in this episode. Overall, the men wearing skants appeared in five episodes of the first season ("Encounter at Farpoint," "Haven," "Conspiracy," "Where No One Has Gone Before" and "11001001"). They also appeared in second season episodes "The Child," "The Outrageous Okona," "The Schizoid Man," and "Samaritan Snare." Their final appearance came during flashbacks in the series finale "All Good Things..."

However, it's significant that the skant-wearing men only appeared as background characters, never as major characters with speaking parts. It's also significant none of the main male cast wore the skant. That, plus the phasing out of the skant in the third season onwards means that TNG probably felt the point was made, and quietly made them disappear. The skant continues to be a part of Trek culture, but mainly as a source of comedy instead of discussions of gender roles.