Arts and Entertainment

The Problem with the Met Gala

What’s the deal with the Met Gala, and why should anyone care about it?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Ying Chen

Each year, the Met Gala takes its seat as high society’s most exclusive and spotlight-snatching event. On the first Monday of May, tens of thousands of people turn on their television to watch pop culture’s elites walk the red carpet while wearing the works of some of the most reputable designers. Each year sparks controversy and discussion among couture enthusiasts, history buffs, and just about anyone else imaginable. So why does the Met Gala still hold relevance if half of the celebrities don’t even attempt the theme?

Functionally, the Met Gala serves as a fundraiser for the Met’s Costume Institute, but its pop culture relevance spans far beyond that. This event is for the rich, with each ticket costing $30,000 for entry alone. In theory, each attendee dresses in accordance with a set theme to represent the corresponding exhibition on display. The couture displayed at the gala has one real focus: impact. Pieces worn at the Met are discussed far and wide in fashion circles, dragged through the dirt, praised to high heaven, and reviewed countless times, and they influence high fashion trends for years thereafter.

The gala has had this impact since 1848, when fashion publisher Eleanor Lambert began the fundraiser. At this time, tickets were only $50 apiece (about $1,103 today), but the attendees were almost exclusively members of New York high society. The role of Met Gala consultant was passed to Diana Vreeland, who made the event even more high profile and expanded it to well-known celebrities instead of simply rich New Yorkers. Currently, the gala is run by Vogue’s Anna Wintour, who continues to make the elite event exponentially more appealing to celebrities year after year. Not much is known about the actual gala and the events that occur once people arrive; the little we hear is from former workers and people who attended the gala but hated being associated with such a snobby crowd. Photos taken by attendees aren’t allowed, and posting the event on social media is forbidden, so the few photos that do circulate the Internet are usually bathroom selfies. In addition to rules like these, the event is incredibly exclusive, with invitations sent according to Anna Wintour’s gospel.

However, over the years, celebrities consistently miss the mark when it comes to connecting to the theme. The secondhand embarrassment from Alexandria Ocasio Cortez having her “tax the rich”' post-divorce wedding dress moment displayed center stage at a party for America’s elite is still palpable to this day. An even more visually disturbing look came from Cara Delevingne, whose “peg the patriarchy” outfit sparked controversy after she stole the slogan from a black sex educator and used it to promote “sticking it to the man,” the polar opposite of the intended message of the original creator. This pitiful attempt at activism is one of the most shameful things seen at the gala, especially when compared to the protestors arrested on the streets outside for raising real awareness.

The grasp elitism has on the gala isn’t going anywhere. Outfits like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Cara Delevingne’s in past galas were seen this year too. Eric Adams and his “End Gun Violence” jacket, for example, were in horrible taste. The one thing that these three people have in common is that they’re out of touch; the rich, famous, and prominent political figures are completely unaffected by the issues that a few attendees are “protesting” at the gala. Activism of this sort should never happen at an event exclusively for the rich because the people being “represented” by the looks reap absolutely no benefit. There was no deeper anti-misogyny message brought by Delevingne; it was simply a quick, attention-grabbing, shock-factor moment.

In fact, most of the attendees are completely out of touch with normal life. Whenever a theme doesn’t reflect something they can relate to, they miss it completely. The “In America” theme during 2021’s Met Gala is a great example of this. Kim Kardashian’s silhouette look missed the mark in totality, as did Kim Petras’s horse look. This is because in elite circles where the views of the public can’t penetrate, there’s no one to set clueless celebrities straight.

The Met Gala will undoubtedly continue to be a prominent event for years to come. Everyone is always dying to see their mediocre celebrity crush wearing an eighth-grade formal ensemble with sneakers on the red carpet. Celebrities aren't going to become any more compliant with the guidelines of the event, and they don’t care what the public thinks. When judging the event as a whole, it’s important to keep in mind that everything done within the walls of the Met during the gala is solely for publicity. In an attempt to promote themselves, celebrities wear something that will elicit a reaction, not necessarily something that people want or are expecting to see. But it gets viewers interested in what abomination their favorite celebrity has whipped up for their hot new single. The Met Gala will reach its full potential when celebrities move away from representing surface-level, superficial ideas and begin seriously considering the gala’s themes and ideas.