This year, the second annual Christian Fashion Week came to Tampa.
1. It's held at a lovely events center.
2. The event kicks off with a VIP party. There is NO alcohol at the VIP party.
3. There ARE random tall beautiful people who are definitely the models.
4. And a dress made of flowers that's inspired by a Bible verse.
5. A lot of fashionable shirts with Christian messages.
6. No one danced, probably due to the soda-and-tea-only situation.
7. Outside there is a boutique on a truck.
It has a velvet rope and you can go on it and shop.
The next night, the two-night runway show kicked off.
8. Hair getting wrangled backstage.
9. Piles of hair extensions.
11. Hairstylists with beauty-themed tattoos.
12. Sumptuous-looking lip gloss palettes.
13. Pastors dressed to the nines.
14. Models hanging out backstage.
15. A huge peacock headdress waiting for its turn on the catwalk.
16. In the main space, there are vendors selling a variety of Christian-themed merch before the show starts.
17. Like T-shirts with family-oriented slogans.
18. Pro-Israel purses with doves on them.
19. Glittery T-shirts with Christian sayings.
These are clearly aimed at the ladies.
20. An apparel company that sponsors a child in the developing world. A portion of its proceeds go directly to him.
21. Jewelry made by women in India who were rescued from sex trafficking.
22. A vendor offering a class for young girls on how to dress modestly.
23. In the corner, a step-and-repeat like you see at every red carpet.
24. At Christian Fashion Week, there's no such thing as too pregnant to WERK.
25. Photographers crowd the photo pit.
26. "If you see something you like, it's OK to make some noise. This isn't Presbyterian Fashion Week," Gomez quips. "It's more like Pentecostal Fashion Week."
27. I didn't have a photographer for night one, but just take my word for it that there were HOT male models.
28. Seriously, all the male models were super hot.
That isn't my terrible iPhone camera flash obscuring their faces, it's God protecting you from looking directly at them because they're so beautiful.
29. Kilts are apparently going to be big this fall. At least at church.
30. The best part of the first night was finding out that Roy Smoothe exists.
31. Second night: Here we go!
33. Most of the models are locals signed with Tampa modeling agencies and aren't necessarily Christians themselves.
34. The night kicks off with "Christian swimwear" from designer 2 Coconuts that focuses on modesty.
35. Last year men were barred from the swimwear portion of the show. This year, Gomez decided to let men stay and watch the swimwear runway.
36. There are a lot of stomach-covering tops.
37. Tons of high waists.
38. ...and skirts.
39. So many cool hats.
40. After the swim show, women are invited up to "interact" with and feel the garments. (Men must remain seated.)
41. "Gentlemen, while you wait for your lady, there's a cash bar in the back," Gomez says over the mike.
42. In the meantime, there are lots of heels on the runway.
43. And plenty of onlookers.
44. The show continues with intricate updos.
45. Lace was plentiful, but always with a camisole or lining underneath.
46. A dress with pineapple boobs.
47. Pleased fans.
48. The Gomezes pause to make a touching speech and award presentation to a local cancer survivor.
49. "Christian fashion, I would say, is still a developing notion," says designer Sumita Bhojwani, whose collection includes a lot of Indian influences.
50. "My collections are inspired mostly by my beliefs," Bhojwani says.
51. "I asked God what he wanted me to make, and he said, 'a cape,'" designer Manjit Allen says. "So I made a cape."
52. The show closes with Julia Chew's line Xiaolin. Julia is only 19.
53. Her collection included a lot of vivid blues and greens.
54. Lush layers of lace.
55. This gorgeous gown covered in feathers.
56. And this dress made of petals with a goth Red Riding Hood cape.
57. After the show, fans pose for photos on the runway.
58. Compared with many fashion shows I've been to in New York, where participants are often a bit snooty, everyone here is ridiculously friendly and open.
59. Giant cross earrings are one popular accessory.
60. There's no official after-party, but attendees linger and chat for about an hour after the show. VIP participants left with a swag bag.
61. It includes a New International Version study Bible from Zondervan, free samples, and a bottle of "replenishing mist" for your hair.
In all, I was surprised by the lack of overt religiosity at Christian Fashion Week. I used to cover New York Fashion Week at my previous job, so I wanted to see how fashion plays out both away from the Lincoln Center tents and when it lacks the secularity of 99% of fashion shows. I'd expected to find clothing with crosses and some (maybe awkward) shoehorning of a gospel message into a runway show.
But besides the pre-show prayer, the event seemed to me like a normal fashion show, save for less cleavage and no cocaine-fueled after-parties. It was also notably more racially diverse — in terms of both audience and participants — than many shows I've been to in New York. The clothes weren't on the cutting edge of trends, but the designers hadn't explicitly forsaken style in the name of modesty.