by Madison Paloski
With NYFW, the VMAs, and the Met Gala all happening in the span of a week, it’s hard to catch a break in fashion news. However, when news outlets started to reveal the photos of the biggest celeb fashion moments of the met gala it was ... underwhelming at most for those of us waiting in anticipation on our living room couches. It’s not often that the theme is followed to a T by everyone in attendance (we haven’t forgotten the camp theme of 2019 that half of the attendees felt was voluntary) but this year proved to have been one of the biggest opportunities for fashion history. Instead, it was a complete and disappointing miss.
When the theme of “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” was first introduced, most fashion critics were skeptical, but intrigued. Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, told Vogue that he “felt it was time to reexamine American identity and fashion, especially as it has changed over the last several years due to both political and social justice movements.”
He said, “I’ve been really impressed by American designers’ responses to the social and political climate, particularly around issues of body inclusivity and gender fluidity, and I’m just finding their work very, very self-reflective. I really do believe that American fashion is undergoing a renaissance. I think young designers, in particular, are at the vanguard of discussions about diversity and inclusion, as well as sustainability and transparency, much more so than their European counterparts, maybe with the exception of the English designers.”
When the co-chairs were announced as a promising diverse lineup of young Americans, it gave hope that this was year’s theme was going to ring true to Bolton’s wishes. Gen Z has been found to be one of the most diverse and inclusive generations to exist, according to Pew Research Center, so it only makes sense to have America’s youth are the frontrunners of this movement to reexamine how American fashion has flexed within the last couple of years especially. However, celebrities proved that this event was nothing other than the usual run-of-the-mill capitalistic PR red carpet event where the theme meant little to nothing to them and their stylists.
“With the world suffering from a global pandemic that is being practically ignored by US politicians, racial discrimination pushing the Black Lives Matter movement to become one of the largest movements in US history, Trump dividing a nation into two, climate change on the verge of taking over, and Texas looking to take away women’s basic healthcare rights, it feels wrong to celebrate an A-list line up of celebrities dressed in boring, meaningless gowns.”
Many celebs came out donning looks that weren’t even made by American designers. Emma Chamberlain, a known Louis Vuitton girl, did not make an effort to be dressed by any other designer, while others opted for Versace, Iris van Herpen, and Givenchy just to name a few non-American featured designers. It begs the question, does the world even care about American fashion?
The lack of statement made the whole event feel eerie and dark, like an episode of Black Mirror. With the world suffering from a global pandemic that is being practically ignored by US politicians, racial discrimination pushing the Black Lives Matter movement to become one of the largest movements in US history, Trump dividing a nation into two, climate change on the verge of taking over, and Texas looking to take away women’s basic healthcare rights, it feels wrong to celebrate an A-list line up of celebrities dressed in boring, meaningless gowns.
As Bolton suggested, this event should have focused on up-and-coming designers, America’s youth, and a hopeful future. It should have been about dreaming of the America we want, not the one we have been forced to endure.
“It should have been about dreaming of the America we want, not the one we have been forced to endure.”
There were a few exceptions, however, that were worth noting. NikkieTutorials, who made her first Met Gala debut since coming out as trans, made a powerful statement paying tribute to trans legend Marsha P Johnson, who has been credited as being the first individual to throw a brick at the Stonewall Riots. On the lower half of her dress was a sash that said: “Pay it no mind”, Marsha P Johnson‘s personal motto which the “P” in her name famously stood for.
Although he wore Italian-based house, Versace, Lil Nas X also took this moment to celebrate queer culture.
Versace explained on Instagram, “@lilnasx told a three-part LGBTQ+ American fairytale with his look for the 2021 Met Gala. He arrived on the red carpet in a dramatic cape that exudes regality and represents concealing one’s true self. The cape was then shed to reveal gleaming Medusa-adorned armor, a symbol of protection from the prejudices faced as a Black, queer person. Finally, the armor is removed to reveal a skin-tight bodysuit that represents living life as your true, unguarded self.”
Wearing non- American designers is not necessarily off-theme as long as they can capture the essence of American culture. Yara Shahidi’s Josephine Baker-inspired look was a perfect way for a non-American designer to capture American culture (and it seems they even did it better than some American-based designers).
Race driver, Lewis Hamilton, used his platform at the Met Gala to promote young black designers, something that with such a high ticket price, is seen as exclusive and out of touch for young designers. Red carpet host Keke Palmer asked Hamilton how his outfit tied into this year's theme and he said that he felt "really, really fortunate" that Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour agreed to host his table. "I've brought four incredible, young, Black talented designers," he said, "so we've got a great host of people tonight and it's about just highlighting beauty and excellence and talent."
While some statements were a hit, others had the opposite effect. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., showed up to the 2021 Met Gala on Monday with a purple, white and gold gown with sashes stating "equal rights for women” referencing the suffrage movement. Although the statement was bold, it is hard to take it seriously when Maloney has a history of biased feminism. In 2001, she gave a speech in a burqa and praised the Bush administration for dropping bombs. US entrepreneur and activist, Rana Abdelhamid, condemned Maloney for feeding into a negative narrative against Muslim women.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also made a statement- with mixed feedback. Wearing a white dress with “tax the rich” scribbled on the back in red in line with Ocasio-Cortez's past proposals to help fund progressive legislation, many viewed this as a protest to the event. Many conservative parties came to attack her, but AOC didn’t pay for a ticket to the event. It’s common for New York politicians to be invited as it is a charity event for a cultural institution in New York City. She was there representing her friend, Brother Vellies designer Aurora James, who designed this sustainable dress with a message targeted directly toward its audience. Sure, her $174k congressional salary is comfortable but it pales in comparison to the $758,434 average salary of the 1% who are the targets of her “tax the rich” ideology. Although it is important to look at the facts, it is also valid to include criticism of the politician who is consistently making headlines. With her, plus Ella Emhoff, Vice President Kamala Harris’s step-daughter in attendance, the blurring lines of politicians and pop culture icons put them on the forefront as celebrities instead of being there for a cause.
CL, a South Korean rapper, singer, and songwriter, probably didn’t realize how much of a political statement she was making when she chose to walk in Alexander wang, a designer with a long list of sexual assault allegations. Although the designer himself was not there, him being represented in some form shows that fashion has not canceled him in any way. Fashion is no stranger to covering up sexual assault cases as seen with the predatory nature of fashion photographers towards models, some of which has inspired the continuous reach of the #metoo movement.
In all, it’s not much to ask the Met Gala to do better. The fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of the Arts has celebrated mediocracy and a long list of celebrities who have no business being there instead of the arts for far too long. With such a miss on what could have been this year, it is only hopeful that they will reexamine the next coming years on how to do better and proceed in a more diverse, inclusive to pave the way for the new generation.