Project Runway and Clothing as Story

Clothes have always told stories. They indicate social class, signify accomplishment, and mark points in history. People can be defined by the clothes they wear: goth, hippie, punk, hipster. What we wear tells a little bit about who we are, whether we’re creative, edgy, girly, simple, or minimalist. Clothes have also been key in the narratives of Scripture—think of Joseph and his colorful coat.

Fashion designers are also trying to tell a story through their clothes—either a story of innovation, a breaking off of tradition, or of trying to communicate who they are through their designs. This is especially true on Lifetime’s Project Runway, which unveils its 16th season on Thursday. Hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum and fashion consultant Tim Gunn, the show brings in fashion designers to compete for a chance to show a collection at New York Fashion Week. But the designers must make it through a series of intense design challenges first.

Designers are often pulled outside of their comfort zone by making clothes from unconventional items, such as creating an avant-garde look that can withstand the rain or reworking fabric from a tacky men’s suit. They’ve had to draw inspiration from different motifs for these challenges: butterflies, bowties, and even an American Girl doll. On top of this, all of the challenges need to be completed under a time constraint. No matter the challenge, the model should walk down the runway still expressing the designer’s unique vision. The judges should be able to look at the clothes and know which designer they belong to.

This reminds me of the way Scripture uses clothes to tell stories. We know a little bit more about a figure in the Bible when their clothing is described for us. John the Baptist’s rags suggest his unkempt life; Joseph’s coat describes his relationship with his father; the priestly garments of Exodus denote Aaron’s honored place in God’s covenant. Even earlier are the garments that tell of Jesus’ coming. After the fall of Adam and Eve, we see God design the first clothes. To cover their nakedness, God provided the first animal sacrifice and “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” This points to the more sufficient sacrifice that would cover all of fallen humanity—Jesus Christ, the perfect lamb of God.

Of course Christ’s clothing was significant too. Before he was crucified, the soldiers placed a purple cloth over the fresh wounds they had inflicted on his back. Purple is the color of royalty, but Jesus’ captors didn’t believe he was the true king of the Jews, let alone the king of all. In the book of Revelation Jesus is adorned differently. He is clothed in a long robe with a golden sash. This robe has been dipped in blood, marking his death on the cross. We also see a great multitude clothed in pure white garments. Jesus bought these robes for undeserving sinners, clothing us in his righteousness. As another season of Project Runway gets underway, with fashion designs that represent all sorts of new stories, may the clothes remind us of the design of Scripture, which tells the greatest story of all.

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Beautiful article Liz!

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