Rule of Acquisition #47: Don't trust a man wearing a better suit than your own.
Star Trek is often lauded for presenting an ideal vision of the future. Speak to any fan of the franchise, however, and you will learn that it’s somewhat popular to razz on Trek a bit (with love) for its somewhat less-than-ideal vision for the future of fashion.
While the standard Starfleet uniforms lend the franchise part of its singular look, they also disallow for any sort of personality. Thus, the civilian fashion that appears on-screen —at least prior to Discovery— feels all the more jarring. Many series seemed plagued by questionable off-duty and civilian wardrobe choices. The popular meme "Who wore it better, Jake or a bus seat?" poked fun at Jake Sisko’s Deep Space Nine tunics. Those outfits Lieutenant Commander Troi and Doctor Crusher worked out in are infamous, and the men’s leisurewear often leaves plenty of room for humor.
Somehow, out of all the jumpsuit, iridescent patchwork, and go-go form-fitting madness, it was Quark who managed to pull together a wardrobe that made the most sense. Whether he’s engaging in First Contact procedures for the Federation or meeting with the Grand Nagus, Quark routinely looks better than those around him.
As eccentric as Quark can be at times, he notably never approaches the sartorial garishness of, say, Q’s outlandish outfits. Nor does he accessorize with the homogenous hallmarks of his species, like the headdress worn by many other Ferengi. Neelix, for example, is also fond of wearing elaborate patterns but with none of the panache exhibited by Quark, instead rather a sort of silliness. While Guinan, Quark’s other 24th-century bartending counterpart on the Enterprise-D, keeps her wardrobe stylish but muted in comparison to the Ferengi’s.
There’s no doubt Quark’s suits are over-the-top by “hu-mon” standards. Yet, as a successful Ferengi businessman, with a direct line to the Grand Nagus, Quark’s attire makes sense. It’s elaborate and ornate— ostentatious in a duplicitous kind of way that compliments his clandestine activities. Quark struts his suits like someone comfortably attending their fifth, or even sixth, MET Gala.
From the wild patterns to the fancy brooches, the vest, and hidden pockets, Quark stands out from the Federation and Bajoran crew of Deep Space 9. Most of Quarks outfits make more than one appearance on the show but when juxtaposed to the never-changing attire of everyone else it seems, at a glance, that he must make regular visits to Garak’s for the Alpha Quadrant’s finest.
We might be tempted to ask why Quark doesn’t dress like other Ferengi, because we instinctively expect some type of homogenous behavior from those different than us. While the answers to the question could potentially be countless, no definitive answer is provided by the series. The fact that it has to be asked, says less about the answer missing than it does about why the question is being asked in the first place.
If it’s a problem that creators were self-conscious of there is no better attempt to rectify it than represented by the Ferengi arc of Deep Space Nine. A formerly oblique parody of the excesses of unchecked capitalism, the Ferengi species has, arguably, evolved more than any other species portrayed in Star Trek. In fact, their society undergoes a dramatic change to rein in their worst impulses over the course of Deep Space Nine’s run, eventually enjoying a successful social revolution with roots in the struggle for gender equality and labor reform.
Finely dressed, Quark allows viewers to witness this period of transformation from the perspective of a steward of the old guard reluctantly shedding the steadfast fallacies of the past.
Quark, who had once risen to prominence in the Ferengi hierarchy, manages better than most to maintain his very Ferengi sense of dignity, even, eventually, learning to change with the times—never forgetting that “good clothes open all doors.”
John (he/him) has been writing professionally for ten years and watching Star Trek for as long as he has memories. In addition to science fiction, he enjoys poetry and politics, board games and engaging with his community. Engage with him on Twitter @jfenton4, and Instagram @instafenton.