All Men Should Watch ‘Project Runway’

Despite its reputation among men, Project Runway offers an admirable display that all audiences can benefit from, Steven Axelrod writes.

Coming across on the boat from Hyannis last week, I saw quite a few married couples, but none of them were talking to each other. The wives were in one group, discussing who had gotten face work done, whose kid was getting suspended, and whose husband was sleeping with the Swedish au pair. They talked about books and movies, how to deal with their in-laws, and how short a skirt you could wear at age 40.

The men were talking about work.

Most of them were building contractors, so they were talking about the price of copper flashing and the difficulty of procuring clear trim white pine. I felt bad for them. Their conversations were boring, and they could have had the same boring conversations at Marine Lumber or any job site on Nantucket. Was there really nothing else to talk about? My dad told me that the best advice he ever got as a kid came from the football coach at the Hill School.

“You’ll never be any good at this game,” the old man told him. “You’re better off playing with the girls.” He had been doing precisely that ever since and highly recommends it. I hung out with the wives on that boat trip. The story of how one woman was breaking into her husband’s email and deleting messages from his girlfriend was way more interesting than the off-island price for a new table saw.

Then I came home and watched two straight hours of Project Runway.

I tell people that, and it’s like I just told them I was a cross dresser. “Hey!” I feel like saying, “I’m watching them make the clothes—I’m not wearing them!” (Not that there’d be anything wrong with that.)

It’s annoying because there’s nothing gender specific about Project Runway. On one level, it’s no different from American Idol, MTV’s True Life, or any of the many shows Project Runway has spawned (cooking competitions, hair-dressing competitions, even an upscale architecture competition on the Sundance channel). There are strong personalities: the diva, the snob, the hard-working loser, the modest visionary, the insanely self-assured disaster. (The most talented ones always have the least to say for themselves, whether they’re cutting fabric or singing Celine Dion tunes.) You have the judges, including the chillingly Teutonic Heidi Klum (“You’re OUT. Auf Wiedersehen”), you have the mentor (Tim Gunn), and you have the nasty remarks, last-minute panic attacks, and desperate overhauls at the last minute.

But on Project Runway you get something more.

Every week, the ever-decreasing number of designers accept that episode’s challenge and actually design clothes (whether its making evening dresses out of burlap, creating a garment made from material found in the grocery store, or making a garden party ensemble from whatever they could find in the flower district). We watch them create something new every week (whether it’s brilliant, awful, or somewhere in between). This is a level of ingenuity and invention we can fully absorb and judge for ourselves. The singers on American Idol don’t write their own songs; we can’t taste the food prepared on all those kitchen combat programs. But we can see the dresses, and watch them being stitched together, in an hour-long fugue state of vicarious creativity. There’s no reason why men shouldn’t enjoy this just as much as women. It’s like the vilified “chick flicks,” which are basically just stories about people, rather than explosions. Men are people. Cutting them off from so much of the fun of life seems unfair and absurd.

The again, I drink hazelnut coffee and wear pink Crocs. So maybe I’m not the best person to ask.

Originally appeared at Open Salon.

—Photo (Bebeto Matthews/AP)


About Steven Axelrod

Steven Axelrod holds an MFA in writing from Vermont college and remains a member of the WGAw despite a long absence from Hollywood. A father of two, he lives on Nantucket, where he paints houses and writes novels, often at the same time, much to the annoyance of his customers.


  1. This article made me curious about TV ratings, and the one source I Googled, showed Jersey Shore at about three times the rating value than Project Runaway.

    There is also quite a bit of fashion in Jersey Shore. Abercrombie tried to pay off the Situation to not wear their brand. Very cute move, but it mostly fizzled. Truth is people like the drama. More drama more ratings, so it seems. A lot like on GMP…..

  2. Peter Houlihan says:

    Personally I like project runway, but Daddy Files was right on the button, the article is really really condencending.

    People talk about and watch programs on the things that are important in their lives. If they work in construction, thats wood and nails, if they’re a beautician, its skin and nails (excuse the pun).

    Project runway isn’t agendered in any way shape or form. Its focused on something thats mostly a women’s interest. No reason men can’t watch it, but they’re no more likely to want to than their wives will enjoy watching tool time.

  3. My dad watches Project Runway with my mother, sister and I. He loves the show just as we do, for the reasons you have stated. He loves the creativity and becomes a judge of the clothes alongside us. He wouldn’t wear the clothes himself – but he likes looking at them, because they’re always interesting.

  4. I’m not sure if you intended it to come across this way or if it’s unintentional, but man you sound snobby.

    You call the mens’ conversation about work “boring” and then promote the female conversation about dishonestly hacking into her husband’s email account to see if he’s having an affair. But more than that, you ever think the conversation the men were having wasn’t boring to them, and only you? Frankly, I don’t know a thing about construction. But I’d rather sit through white pine trim talk than watch a second of Project Runway.

    Just another reminder to avoid all articles with headlines that say “All Men Should…”

  5. CajunMick says:

    I have seen the show. i’m an artist, so seeing the creative process was interesting. The rest (drama, competition) I can live without.
    I prefer to talk about the subjects polite folks don’t discuss- sex, politics, religion. Most other subjects bore me.
    Y’all be well.

  6. My husband and I watch Project Runway and Top Chef together. I first got him into them, but now, he actually watches them on his own accord (he even watched the Project Runway finale without me and asked later if I’d had time to catch it so we could discuss the results). I prefer Top Chef (it actually won the Emmy for best reality show, and it does have less drama than PR, trying to focus more on the food), but Project Runway did open the door to this type of competition show. To those saying that you’re against reality shows. These aren’t the Jersey Shore or The Bachelor. These shows feature very talented people creating, competing, and interacting under extreme pressure. It’s fascinating to see what they can make in such short amounts of time–and just how driven, competitive, and creative they are in what they do. They’re better than some of the same old scripted crap the studios keep spewing out (terrible star driven sitcoms with a flimsy premise, law dramas, teen and vampire shows, etc)–and the personalities and interactions actually tend to be more interesting too.

  7. I watch Project Runway, but only for the 20 minutes the actually show the designers you know… designing. The other 70 minutes are just them arguing and nitpicking on each other. It makes good television when there are legitimate dislikes between the cast, but in general I do not really think it is good discussion material.

    But that is me. I am more partial to talking about the games or comics I read, the newest tech or politics. I find any discussion about real-life rather mundane unless it is a serious issue, particularly talking about clothes and fashion, which makes my interest in Project Runway all the more ironic.

  8. wellokaythen says:

    I think to a lot of people there’s something naturally fascinating about watching a creative process unfold, whether it’s watching someone create a plate of food, a piece of clothing, or a motorcycle. There’s something very soothing and very human about watching someone make something. It’s often independent of what your interests really are, just interesting to see someone imagine something and make it happen. I can’t get enough of those old Bob Ross painting shows, even though I have no interest in painting and I don’t even find the final products very interesting. Maybe there’s a hunger out there in the TV audience for some kind of contact with the creative process. How often do most of us actually see someone create something with skill and creativity?

    I find Heidi Klum’s asymmetrical eyes compelling and disturbing at the same time.

  9. Can’t help you on this one, Steven. I never watch ANY reality shows, and am patiently awaitiing their demise.

  10. fardarter says:

    Generally annoyed by anyone who says all x must do y. I think the only point worth making is that our male mono-cultures are a bit pathetic. As someone who likes both football and theatre, I have never felt excluded, but for many men I can see this is an issue.

    On the other hand, having watched it, it IS better than most reality TV out there.

  11. Marcus Williams says:

    I doubt I would watch Project Runway on my own, but it’s been a staple in the lineup of shows that my wife and I enjoy watching together since about the third or second season. (I think the one that just finished was the ninth, right?) It’s nominally about fashion design, but what makes it watchable for me are the people. It’s not much different from American Chopper being about motorcycles or Deadliest Catch being about crab fishing – the job itself gets repetitive to watch pretty quick, but the people responding to each other and the stress of the job are what the shows are really about.

  12. You’ve got an uphill battle convincing large numbers of men to watch a show on women’s fashion design.

    The overwhelming suspense of not knowing which fabric and notions are going to be used doesn’t quite cut it.

  13. Hubster’s more inclined to watch What Not To Wear and then criticize my wardrobe. I wouldn’t mind, except his standard attire consists of logo t-shirts, usually stained, and ill-fitting cargo pants. When I suggest he put on something more appropriate for going out in public, he says going to the grocery store or WalMart isn’t going out in public.

  14. Tom Matlack says:

    Okay I am with you … up to a point. After watching three full seasons it does get a bit repetitive. But then so does most of the things on TV. I have recently moved on from Runway to “Person of Interest.” Kind of Matrix goes mainstream. Check it out.

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