To Be or Not to Be (On Theme)
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The most iconic red carpet of the year, May 2. “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” was the overarching theme of this year’s Met Gala, but the official dress code was Gilded Glamour and White Tie. With the Gilded Age (1870s-1900s) dress code so clearly spelled out, one would assume that the attendees would follow it. However, as per usual, this was not the case. Many people opted for only following the theme of American fashion, while others simply looked underdressed for the biggest, boldest event of the year.
On one hand, some outfits were undoubtedly successes. Billie Eilish wore a Gucci dress that was the epitome of upper-class Gilded Age fashion, featuring a mint corset with a bustled cream satin skirt, and a black choker that added a bit of edge to the otherwise ethereal, and upcycled, look. Usually known for wearing baggier clothing, Eilish’s recent break from that trend is exemplified by her outfit choice. For a less conventional look, Dove Cameron embraced the theatrical aspect of the Met Gala in an Iris Van Herpen gown that created the skeleton of the classic Gilded Age dress, an appropriate combination of the past and present. Paying homage to unsung Black dressmaker Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, Sarah Jessica Parker paired a black-and-white Christopher John Rogers dress with a colorful hat that looked like it came straight from the late 1800s.
For menswear, FINNEAS looked exquisite wearing a long black Gucci tailcoat that contrasted beautifully with the lilac shirt underneath. His loose-fitting trousers added some personal flair to the ensemble, cementing FINNEAS’s look as his own. Shawn Mendes’s red and navy-blue jacket spurred comparisons to princes, lords, and dukes alike, which is exactly what Gilded Era fashion should do. Combining the femininity of the Gilded Age with his suit, Evan Mock wore a cream corset top with a ruffled button-down shirt that added simplicity and elegance to his look.
Arguably, the best looks of the night came from the celebrities who chose to shine a light on the groups that were harshly underrepresented in the Gilded Age. Riz Ahmed’s 4S Designs look honored “the immigrant workers who kept the Gilded Age going” by working in horrendous conditions to produce the textiles and materials for the indulgence of the upper classes. Additionally, Quannah Chasinghorse, an Oglala Lakota and Han Gwich’in model, paired handmade Indigenous jewelry with her upcycled Prabal Gurung tulle gown. Chasinghorse’s outfit effectively represents the Native Americans who, though present during the Gilded Age, did not reap the same benefits that those in white American society did.
Unfortunately, many outfits, as per usual, fell flat. One explanation transcends the theme or dress code itself: celebrities and designers didn’t step up to the occasion. Notably, the outfits designed by Louis Vuitton looked like your standard, run-of-the-mill red carpet outfit. Hoyeon Jung fell victim to this issue. Though she looked beautiful, her Louis Vuitton denim dress just didn’t cut it for the grandiosity of the Met, especially when considering the lack of a clear connection between her outfit and the theme. Similarly, Sophie Turner’s gown was gorgeous, but it didn’t stand out amidst the many outfits that graced the red carpet. Menswear, like at previous Met Galas, was largely tuxedos with a slight quirk: Ryan Reynolds, co-chair of this year’s Gala, wore a velvet suit, only a small step up from plain black. Jack Harlow’s brown Givenchy suit was incredibly plain for how illustrious the Met Gala is, and the silver accents on J Balvin’s black suit didn’t set his look apart from any other red carpet look.
The second and largest fatal flaw of many of the attendees and their designers was the lack of understanding of the dress code. Blake Lively, another co-chair, wore a beautiful blue and rose-gold dress that transformed halfway along the carpet. The bodice was adorned with gemstones in the shape of the New York City skyline. Though it did reference the Statue of Liberty, which was built during the Gilded Age, it still lacked a direct connection to the theme. In fact, it largely took inspiration from art deco, a 1920s and 1930s architectural movement that used bright colors and sparkles. In the same vein, many celebrities wore looks inspired by the Roaring ‘20s rather than the Gilded Age, a large oversight on the part of the designers. While the short, feathered, flapper-esque dress from Emma Stone and the sparkled fringe from Maude Apatow’s look would have been appropriate choices for a 1920s-themed Met Gala, the looks ultimately fell short for this year’s theme. Finally, we saw a multitude of “gilded” (gold) looks from the likes of Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Sabrina Carpenter, and others. While technically on theme, the outfits didn’t offer much in the realm of creativity or innovation, making for some disappointing looks.
It wouldn’t be a Met Gala without some sort of drama; the most controversial look of the night was undoubtedly Kim Kardashian’s. People were shocked when she stepped out on the carpet wearing the exact same dress that Marilyn Monroe wore in 1962 when she sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy. The negative reactions mostly stemmed from historical preservation concerns, in addition to Kardashian’s claim that she lost 16 pounds to fit into the dress. As there are about 75 years between the Gilded Age and when Monroe wore this dress, many wonder if it was even necessary to go through all of the trouble to wear something that clearly failed to adhere to the dress code. While the dress was a nod to the icon that Marilyn Monroe was, wearing the actual dress wasn’t necessary to create the look. Ultimately, the choice to utilize this historical garment will have consequences on its lifespan, as it is now impacted by flash photography, potential tears, perfume, and makeup stains.
At the end of the day though, it is important to note that all celebrities seemed to have followed a theme: America’s fashion story. Maybe Sebastian Stan’s bright pink ensemble wasn’t Gilded Glamour, nor was Kylie Jenner’s “wedding dress” and baseball cap combination. But the event fundamentally showcased American fashion: a diverse collection of tastes, trends, and perceptions of style.