The 2021 Met Gala had every opportunity to deviate from tradition and allow for a show-stopping return to one of America’s most beloved fashion moments. The Gala itself had been pushed back from its usual May date for the optimistic sake of holding it when the Covid-19 virus was more under control. In the time that has passed since the latest Met Gala, the country has witnessed the spread of a pandemic, an onslaught of protests pertaining to racial awareness like the Black Lives Matter movement, an election season that will surely live in infamy as one of the most divisive moments in the country, along with numerous other social and environmental issues that have contributed to the whirlwind of the past year and a half. Simply put, the theme for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute- “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” should have left guests wanting to draw inspiration from more than just old Hollywood glamour and Americana styles.
Each year the Met serves as an opportunity to celebrate and support the arts by raising money for the Costume Institute. The event has been hailed as the Oscars equivalent within the fashion world, and guests are encouraged to make statements with their looks, which has never been more expressly clear than it was with 2019’s theme, “Camp: Notes on Fashion.” Memorable looks included Billy Porter’s golden bodysuit complete with gold lamé wings and Lady Gaga’s captivating performance art that included 4 separate looks. Anna Wintour herself expressed the significance of holding the event in the fall rather than its typical spring date, noting how it was supposed to not only close out New York Fashion Week, but relay the message of New York bouncing back from the pandemic. The theme itself was not meant to be a recollection of American fashions but more so a reexamination of these fashions. The exhibit features younger designers from a diverse range of backgrounds, and places an emphasis on more sustainable fashion. The hosts of the event were also intended to evoke a youthful presence in art, pop culture, and political discussion, with Timothee Chalamet, Billie Eilish, Amanda Gorman, and Naomi Osaka making up the quartet.
A large portion of celebrities who opted for dramatic looks fell into the category of golden age glitz and sleek, polished looks. Emma Chamberlain, Kendall Jenner, Anok Yai, Yara Shahidi, and Imaan Hamman were just a few guests who chose to evoke the vintage aesthetic with heavily embellished gowns. Celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Billie Eilish, Kaia Gerber opted for more classy, yet equally timeless pieces that were once again reminiscent of Old Hollywood glamour. Only some guests in attendance made any sort of political statement with their attire, including AOC’s controversial “Tax the Rich” dress, Dan Levy’s Loewe esemble celebrating queer love and visibility, and Cara Delevingne’s “Peg the Patriarchy” bulletproof vest that resulted in her coming under fire from internet users who pointed out how Delevingne failed to credit black queer sex educator Luna Matatas with the slogan.
Even when celebrities try to send a message with their garments it can be a slippery slope, but when evaluating the success of a year’s Met Gala in accordance with guests’ interpretation of the theme and generating shock value, this year was lackluster by most standards. After months of political and social turmoil, many celebrities arrived dressed as themselves- Hollywood’s elite harkening back to the “good old days.” The event was still able to draw in an exorbitant amount of revenue to support the arts. Similar to the dilemma of art itself, the notion of whether Met Gala guests should stick to wearing pieces that merely push the boundaries of fashion or should also seek to serve a larger purpose is open for interpretation. Despite their wealth making it difficult to send socio-political messages without coming across as hypocritical or performative, many of those in attendance at the gala were creators in some way, and should therefore be invested in donning inventive looks that make a statement. It would have been nice for the fashions to evoke more thought and contemplation of the state of America, similar to the pieces that sit within the exhibit.
Those still waiting in anticipation for the Met Gala we hoped for have nothing to fear- September’s mini-gala was merely a precursor to the main event still being held in May, when the second portion of the Costume Institute’s exhibit “An Anthology of Fashion.” will open.