On March 3, the Lewis & Clark history department hosted the annual Historical Project Runway, marking the eighth year of this quirky fashion show. A history-themed riff on the reality show “Project Runway,” the event pits teams of three students against each other in a competition to design, build and model costumes based on historical events according to a theme decided by the organizers.
The competition began at 5:30 p.m. and the costumes had to be finished by 7 p.m. The history department provided a zany assortment of clothes and accessories out of which to build costumes. Students had signed up, formed teams and chosen topics for their costumes beforehand. Associate Professor of History Andy Bernstein oversaw the costume-making, filling the role of Tim Gunn on “Project Runway.”
Contestants had to justify the historical significance of the fashion choices they made to a judging panel made up of Professor of English and Director of Gender Studies Rishona Zimring, Head of Watzek Library Special Collections and College Archivist Hannah Crummé, Administrative Coordinator Amy Baskin and Ryo Hillyer, the five-year-old daughter of Associate Professor of History and Director of Ethnic Studies Reiko Hillyer and Professor of History Elliot Young. When asked why she was called on to be a judge, Ryo said “because I was old enough.”
Historical Project Runway was Reiko Hillyer’s brainchild, combining her interests in fashion and history, and she has been an organizer of the event each year since it started.
“This is about how we can think abstractly and materially, and unleash creative juices that don’t always have the chance to come out in our classes,” Hillyer said at the beginning of the event. “But mostly, it’s because we wanted to have fun.”
Five teams vied for the show’s grand prize. Each team’s costume was based on a historical hoax, myth, or moral panic, in keeping with the night’s theme of “Fake News: Hoaxes in History.”
First to face the judges was Team Skull, composed of Ferdinand Sawyer ’22, Ben Warner ’22 and Gil Odgers ’23, who served as the team’s model. Their inspiration was phrenology, a 19th-century pseudoscience that purported to reveal information about people’s behavior and intelligence based on the shape of their skulls.
Odgers wore a black-and-white referee’s shirt, sweatpants and a leopard print scarf, with several tape measures draped around their body. Slung around Odgers’ waist was a purse in the shape of a deformed baby. Explaining the team’s choices to the judges, Warner said the contrast between the stripes and the leopard print was intended to symbolize phrenology’s attempt at neatly classifying types of humans versus humanity’s wild, unclassifiable true nature. The baby-purse was meant as a comment on phrenology’s connection to eugenics.
Crummé criticized the lack of Victorian fashion in Odgers’ outfit, given that phrenology was most popular in the Victorian era. In response, Odgers drew applause by announcing that while phrenology itself is a thing of the past, its racist and ableist legacy lives on today.
The next team to be judged was The Slough, comprising Anthi Sklavenitis ’24, Lucy Clifford ’24 and model Lauren Arriola ’24. Arriola’s costume was based on Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion novel “The War of the Worlds,” which was so realistic that thousands of Americans tuning in believed Martians really had invaded Earth.
Arriola’s outfit drew on some creatively repurposed materials: It was covered in pictures of rocket ships cut out of a children’s blanket, while the costume’s lower half was a hoop skirt made out of a collapsible crawl tube for toddlers. Arriola wore a large plastic daisy on her back, which she said symbolized the explosions and bombings in “The War of the Worlds,” but also hope in the unification the alien invasion brings to Earth. When Baskin asked why the costume did not include any references to the tripod shape of the Martians’ fighting machines, Arriola pointed out that her hair was in three ponytails.
After The Slough were the Bush Bois, consisting of Peter Smith ’24, Jeremy Kregar ’24 and Timothy Stolp ’24. Stolp wore a getup inspired by U.S. President George W. Bush’s false claims that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, which Bush used as a pretext to invade Iraq.
Stolp’s outfit included a long overcoat, signifying “business as usual,” over a shirt patterned with hypnotic black-and-white zigzags, indicating the confusion of the post-9/11 days. He also wore a bandana over his face, symbolizing Bush’s jingoistic “cowboy diplomacy,” and a wire halo above his head, for American exceptionalism. Crummé compared the patchwork outfit to a harlequin, which she said fit Bush’s image as a clown-like leader.
Team Score was next, with Spencer Koonce ’23 modeling a torn, many-layered androgynous outfit loosely influenced by the Salem witch trials, flanked by his teammates Corinne Sears ’23 and Alex Knutsen ’23.
“We really wanted to take the Salem witch trials and elevate it to a high-fashion ’90s grunge revival, à la Courtney Love,” Sears said.
When Zimring asked why they went for an androgynous aesthetic, Knutsen said “Magic can be found in all genders,” to murmurs of agreement from the crowd.
Lastly, The Cult, consisting of Kathy Zhang ’22, Lizeth Gaxiola ’22 and model Gabriel Huerta ’22, showed off their entry inspired by the 1995 hoax film “Alien Autopsy,” which purported to show scientists examining an extraterrestrial that had crash-landed near Roswell, New Mexico.
Zhang joked that the team chose aliens as their topic because the three of them are psychology majors, not history majors, so they felt like they came from another world. Huerta’s costume had a retrofuturistic style, with loosely draped beige shawls and a round hat with fabric around it that could be closed like curtains.
“We initially went the alien coming-out-of-the-stomach route, but (Bernstein) told us that was too obvious,” Huerta explained. The costume they settled on was inspired by the desert landscape of New Mexico as well as classic sci-fi films like “Star Wars” and “Dune.”
The judges deliberated for five minutes, then made their decision. The Slough won first place for Arriola’s “War of the Worlds” inspired costume, with each team member winning $30 gift cards to the resale retailer Buffalo Exchange. Team Skull’s phrenology costume took home second place. They won three “historical artifacts” including a rare children’s novel from 1910 titled “The Automobile Boys of Lakeport,” the card game “Guillotine” and a hilariously politically incorrect board game called “Battle of the Sexes: Who Is The Superior Sex, Male or Female?” from the 1980s. The remaining teams received honorable mentions.