Star Trek's Rank Stripes Explained

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By Josh Tyler | Published

Star Trek rank stripes

Starfleet ranks can be confusing to casual Star Trek fans, but the system is easy to explain, and a lot of what happens in any given Star Trek episode makes more sense if you understand them. So, here’s what you need to know about Star Trek’s rank stripes.

First, you should know that stripes are only one of the ways Star Trek denotes ranks. There are two other methods: using rank emblems and using rank pips. Rank emblems are used on the monster maroon uniforms seen in Star Trek’s II – VI. Rank pips are used in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: The Next Generation era shows, all the way up through Star Trek: Picard.

However, for the purposes of this explanation, we’ll be focused on rank stripes as they are used in the era of Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

Where Rank Stripes Are Displayed

Rank stripes appear on the sleeves of any given Star Trek officer’s uniform…

Star Trek Rank Stripes on Sleeves
Standard uniform with rank stripes on sleeves

The only exception to this is when an officer is wearing his dress uniform. Dress uniforms are worn at high-end diplomatic functions or in court proceedings. On those uniforms in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, rank stripes are displayed on the shoulder as epaulets…

Star Trek Rank stripes on shoulders
Dress uniform with shoulder rank stripes

It’s worth noting, however, that in Star Trek: The Original Series, dress uniforms display no rank stripes at all…

No Stripes
Dress uniforms without rank

Those stripes, whether on the sleeve or on the shoulders, clearly denote the military rank of the person wearing the uniform. The number and types of stripes tell you who is in charge at any given moment.

What Each Rank Stripe Means In Starfleet

Below you’ll find each combination and its corresponding rank, in order from the lowest rank to highest rank, in Star Trek’s fictional Starfleet, all on one handy chart…

Star Trek Starfleet rank stripes explained
Image free for reuse with a link back to GIANT FREAKIN ROBOT

As you can see from the chart above, there are three types of stripes. A thin stripe, a medium stripe, and a thick stripe. Which stripe is used in each combination denotes that officer’s specific rank.

Below you can see those Starfleet rank stripes in action on a few uniforms in the most recent episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Military uniforms
Vice Admiral & Captain
Lieutenant Comander
Officer cadet
Star Trek
Lietenant Commander
Star Trek officer
Lietenant Commander
Star Trek uniforms

In general, the more stripes you have and the thicker those stripes are, the greater your rank.

When And Where Star Trek Uses Rank Stripes

This system has been used in both the original Star Trek series, the first Star Trek movie, and now on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. After Star Trek: The Motion Picture they began experimenting, and the crew’s uniforms changed drastically. As the uniforms changed, did the rank aesthetic.

There has been some variation in the styling of the stripes across the timeline of the franchise.

What Star Trek’s Original Rank Stripes Looked Like

Starfleet rank stripes had a more detailed styling on the 60s Star Trek series, where the thinnest stripe was more of a dotted line…

Star Trek rank stripes on the original series
Rank stripes on sleeves in the original Trek series

Rank Stripes In The Motion Picture

The photo below illustrates how Starfleet did rank stripes in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Note that Kirk is now clearly a Rear Admiral…

Rank stripes on The Motion Picture

By the time Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came around, director Nicolas Meyer had decided the show needed a more nautical look. The franchise switched to the now iconic “monster maroon” uniforms and along with them switched to a new type of rank signifier…

Star Trek movie uniforms
Star Trek’s iconic Monster Maroon uniforms

From Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan all the way through Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the franchise stuck with those iconic uniforms. As you can see from the photo, they’ve replaced rank stripes with rank emblems, each of which signifies a different rank.

After Undiscovered Country, the franchise switched to the collar mounted rank pips used on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Rank pips
Captain Picard shows off his rank pips

Since Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is a prequel, Star Trek has gone back to the original rank stripes which started it all.

Now you know who is in charge during any scene on Star Trek. Note that if two officers are of the same rank, traditionally, the officer with the longest term of service is then the ranking officer.

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