Human beings won't make it to the far reaches of space for a long, long time, and the engineers who make spacesuits aren't sure what we'll wear when we get there. I hope our future astronauts look at cool as the characters in Mass Effect: Andromeda. Illustration: Angelica Alzona
The purpose of a uniform is to broadcast who you are and what you do to the world. Uniforms have certain practical concerns that make them different from normal clothes. They have to be comfortable, easy to put on and take off, work on a variety of different body types, and also be able to stand up to wear and tear.
Mass Effect: Andromeda seems to really get what makes uniforms work and what their minor details say about the person wearing them. The human characters in Mass Effect: Andromeda wear uniforms that are ostensibly very similar, but not quite the same. They all clearly come from the same organisation and work together, but they have different roles and therefore different needs for their uniforms. Minor changes across uniforms while still maintaining a colour scheme and design elements show The Andromeda Initiative as an organisation with a lot of different parts moving in service of the same goal.
Sara Ryder, Cora Harper and Liam Kosta/Image source: Bioware
The Andromeda Initiative is a colonising effort, staffed by scientists, soldiers and explorers. Each of those groups of people has a specialised uniform. The base uniform is a tactical jumpsuit in white, with blue details. Ryder, who has a military background, wears a jumpsuit with armoured shoulders and chest. Cora also has a military background, but she's a biotic — essentially, she has psychic powers that include being able to create psychic shields — so her armour is more lightweight and flexible. Liam Kosta specialises in teaching tactical training to civilians, and his version of the uniform looks more like pants and a jacket as opposed to everyone else's military uniform. While Cora and Ryder look ready for action, Liam looks like you could grab a beer with him.
The default colour scheme of the jumpsuits reads as athletic and no-nonsense, but also optimistic, especially in comparison to the previous Mass Effect series' N7 uniforms. The blue and white suggests a blue sky with clouds, or a cresting wave, while the N7 black and red reads as being about combat and looking cool. This is an organisation ostensibly about discovery, rather than staving off an alien threat.
Aside from the design, these uniforms also communicate through their materials. They're all made out of technical fabrics — high quality materials that serve a functional purpose. The close-up shots provided in Bioware's cosplay guide show a lot more fabric details than you might notice in the game. Rubber joints allow for a freedom of movement and also divide the torso from the legs, breaking up this big white jumpsuit into smaller shapes. The meshing on the arms and legs allows the body to breathe, and putting it on the inside of the arms and legs makes them look longer and leaner. In the world of fashion, long limbs are ideal, even if you are here to collect rocks and shoot things in the head, so these details read as style choices even if they're mostly about practicality.
Details of Cora Harper's jumpsuit/Image source: Bioware
While we're still a long way off from the tightly-fitting jumpsuits of Mass Effect's world, real-world engineers are working to get there. The Z-2 suit, which is slated to go into production for the International Space Station this year, is a much sleeker design than the classic NASA suit. It also has a neat decal on the front made of electroluminescent wire — low key, it looks Mass Effect as fuck.
What's really exciting is the MIT Biosuit. While a suit like this won't be realised for possibly decades, it's the closest thing we've seen to the classic science fiction spacesuit like you see in Mass Effect: Andromeda. It's actually made out of metal coils — the idea being that when the suit is cool, it can expand to accommodate the astronaut, who can then be essentially "shrinkwrapped" within it with a blast of hot air. This would hypothetically provide the one third of an atmosphere of pressure necessary for an astronaut to survive in space. Maybe when this suit is finally usable we'll be journeying out into the far reaches of space, just as they do in Mass Effect: Andromeda.
You might not think about uniforms as being a part of fashion, but they're all deliberately designed. Sometimes materials are even invented to accommodate workers' needs. The Mass Effect: Andromeda uniforms are a good example of this at work. We might not see these kinds of space suits for decades, but we can only hope to look this fly when we're colonising the far reaches of outer space.