Theiss Titillation Theory: The sexiness of an outfit is in direct proportion to the likelihood that the wearer will fall out of it.
In describing my young adult science fiction novel, I’ve started referring to it by an assortment of adjectives: epic, exciting, heartwarming, funny, sexy…
Yes, I said sexy. Yes, a young adult novel. With protagonists that range in age from sixteen down to ten. (Okay, the sexy part does not apply to the ten-year-old). But, as I have discussed before, there is sexual content, most of it implied, all of it positive. Something else I want my novel to be is fun. A contrast to all the dark, violent, nihilistic dystopian crap that’s out there. And, to that end, sexy can indeed be fun. In fact, when sexy isn’t fun, there’s a problem.
And how am I accomplishing this? Well, I continue to look backwards for inspiration. Once again I land on the classic Star Trek series. I’ve already discussed the outstanding soundtrack music the series had, and also how much I am trying to emulate its essential philosophy of optimism regarding human potential. But let’s make it the trifecta, and examine one more way I am proud to be influenced: manner of dress.
Star Trek’s costumes were predominantly designed by William Ware Theiss, a very imaginative designer who worked within the constraints of 1960s television by being creative. He knew that a costume’s appeal wasn’t in what was shown, but rather what was almost shown. Thus the Theiss Titillation Theory mentioned above. Further, Theiss used his creativity to create costumes which were, at the time, astonishingly racy by revealing areas of the body not normally considered erogenous. He showed plenty of skin, but in surprising, unusual ways.
I am somewhat influenced by this. My story takes place in several exotic locations, all of which have one thing in common: a lack of fear of showing the human body. This includes comfort with complete, body-positive nudity, which is something my main characters come to accept, and even embrace. But there’s also clothing that is not designed for modesty, but rather beauty. This applies to both sexes, but, I confess, my interest and attention lies more with female designs.
To that end, I would like to take this opportunity to show what are probably my five favorite Thiess designs from Star Trek. There are many other marvelous ones, but these stand out for me. Understand this is entirely subjective. And, yes, it’s me appreciating the female form. If you want to accuse me of sexism, go ahead, but if appreciating female beauty is a bad thing, then I don’t want to be good.
Please forgive the marginal quality of the images; the internet was of surprisingly little help in this very important research. Frankly, nothing beats actually watching those great old episodes.
Okay, this is not a special favorite of mine, but I had to include it as being probably Theiss’ most famous creation, the one that perfectly embodies his philosophy. To all accounts, the top part was held up only by sheer willpower (in reality a lot of tape was used). But what a will it must have been to not be countered by the collective will of every male in the viewing audience.
I know the “Mirror Universe” is evil and all that, but I can’t possibly have been the only person watching who really wished the regular uniforms looked like this. Yes, Shatner is in the picture, but the presence of both Barbara Luna and Nichelle Nichols more than makes up for it. And I’m actually glad he fills out the perspective, because, out of fairness, I am clothing my male lead in an outfit that a female friend assures me is hot. And what I really don’t understand is why Shatner is looking in the direction he is. Come on, Bill, they’re over there!
What’s that you say? You have no idea who this is? Rightly so. This is a slave girl from the gladiator episode, who appears in all of one scene. Near as I can tell, her only reason for being there is…well…to look like this. I consider that to be a good enough reason.
I’m sorry the image is so poor for what is probably my all-time favorite costume. It really doesn’t do justice to the fact that on one side there’s basically nothing there. This is an additional rule of sexiness: the appeal of an outfit is increased by the assumption that she can’t possibly have anything on under it.
Now, the clothing I’ve come up with isn’t quite like this, but it’s plenty fun and unashamed. Yes, I’m talking for the most part about teen characters. You might be saying this sort of thing is inappropriate. But what’s appropriate? There are cultures, and even people here in the US, who would say that even a modest one-piece bathing suit is inappropriate, that anything less that head-to-toe covering is bad. It’s all perspective. My book is science fiction. Which means, ultimately, fantasy. And fantasy is a good thing, especially when it allows us to appreciate those things that society doesn’t allow us to appreciate for real.
And you know what? It takes a lot of courage to dress like this. A lot of body-confidence. Given the number of women who can’t bear to even let their partners see their bodies, I say any woman (or man) who can say, “Yes, I have a body, and here it is,” is in a good place, psychologically. That’s a major theme in my novel, as one character’s gradual acceptance of her own body (a struggle familiar to many teen girls) is a major part of her character arc, and symbolizes her working through and overcoming trauma. Another character’s changing mode of dress indicates his willingness to embrace his true potential, rather than hide it. And for another one, her unselfconscious nudity represents her utter, unaffected innocence and love of life. If you think those are values that children should be shelded from, then I weep for the future. Because it probably won’t be designed by Bill Theiss.