The MET Gala, dubbed “fashion’s biggest night” by many, is an annual fundraising event organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) to support the museum. It is traditionally held on the first Monday of May and is followed by an exhibition later on in the month.
The event is held with an annually changing theme. From 2019’s “Camp: Notes on Fashion” which was all about “Camp” or simply, extravagance and performance, to 2018’s “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” which displayed never-before-seen items from the Vatican in its accompanying exhibit — the Gala has seen it all. This year, after the event had been canceled in 2020, and the 2021 Gala was held in September instead of May, the Gala was held on the 2nd of May, 2022. The theme for the exhibit that goes with the gala was established as “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.”
While this was the name of the exhibition, the attendees of the gala were given the theme of “Gilded Glamor”. While seemingly straightforward enough at first glance, with gilded meaning “covered or tinged with gold or a golden color,” and glamor meaning “an exciting and often illusory and romantic attractiveness,” to the unsuspecting eye, the theme would indicate golden dresses and suits.
“The Gilded Age”, referring to the period between 1870 and 1890, sometimes even accepted as 1900, represented wealth and power in the United States. With rapidly growing industries such as banking and oil as well as the advances in railroads, some Americans gained immense wealth in a short period of time. Alternatively, or rather, more accurately, the rich got richer while the working class got poorer.
This meant the affluent societies would be flaunting their new dresses at balls and operas while the working class worked low wages and long hours under hazardous conditions. The era got its name from Mark Twain’s novel “The Gilded Age” which criticized this aforementioned disparity of American corruption and greed following the Civil War.
Fashion-wise, the working class’ options were listless, as expected by their financial circumstances. On the other hand, the rich were doing everything to show off deep pockets and power. Women dressed extravagantly, wearing low-cut dresses that exposed their decolletage and bustle that added volume to their backside. These dresses often consisted of various materials such as silk or tulle and were worn over corsets. Men’s fashion was a bit more subtle in its adornment with suits being different in color or fabrics. Hats played the role of a common accessory regardless of gender.
While some attendees truly understood and embodied the history behind the theme “Gilded Glamor,” most fell flat according to both the general public and acclaimed fashion critics in regards to reflecting the extravagance of the period.
One particular look that was praised by many, named the “most accurate look of the night,” was Billie Eilish’s Gucci gown. With a corset of visible structure, a skirt with wide hips and bustle, as well as vibrant colored fabric that reflected the extravagance of the Gilded Age, Eilish’s gown was historically accurate and yet the look was not outdated. With her rocker-style black hair and lace sleeves with attached fingerless gloves (although gloves were common attire at the time), she added her own style and an overall modern twist to the look. The choice of attire was also commended by many due to how it was almost completely eco-friendly with ethically sourced or recycled fabric making up the dress and her shoes being vegan leather. Many stated that she “understood the assignment,” even going as far as to say that she “wrote the assignment.”
At first glance, Dove Cameron’s dress seemed to be too futuristic for the theme of the event, however, her look simply took a creative route by using the structure of the clothing from the Gilded Age. Designed by Iris Van Herpen, her look featured skeletal-like imagery on nude fabric, a signature look of Van Herpen. What made this look special, though, were the two arm pieces Cameron wore. With wire-like structures protruding out of her arms, creating an upside down U shape, she mixed futuristic elements with a bustle, a crucial aspect of Gilded Age fashion. With her arms by her side, the pieces created the illusion of a high bustle on her backside, effectively alluding to the era’s fashion while keeping things modern and relevant to today’s trends. For those who understood the reference, the stylistic choices were considered of quality.
Blake Lively, one of the hosts of this year’s MET Gala, was arguably one of the best-dressed attendees. She entered the gala in a bronze gown with a geometric pattern and a big, bow-like train. As she walked down the red carpet, though, this bow was opened to reveal a gorgeous turquoise gown from underneath. Although this was not a blatant observation of the event’s theme, the piece was one cleverly constructed choice. With her dress transforming from copper to turquoise, she represented The Statue of Liberty as it slowly oxidized from its bright color to turquoise.
Perhaps the look that attracted the most attention was that of Kim Kardashian. At first, her gown seemed to be an ordinary nude one embellished with gemstones, but its historical context made it special. Although she replaced it with a replica after her first walk on the red carpet, Kim Kardashian wore the iconic dress Marilyn Monroe wore the night she sang John F. Kennedy's “Happy Birthday”. The dress, after Monroe’s unfortunate passing, had been sold at record-breaking prices on numerous occasions with the highest bid being five million dollars. While the presence of the dress at one of the most significant events on the calendar of a fashion enthusiast did make a lot of noise, it was not all positive. Some claimed that even after her passing, Monroe continued to be disrespected and commodified, while others did not understand the relationship between the dress and the theme of the night. Some were even angry at Kim Kardashian for mentioning that she had to lose 16 pounds in three weeks prior to the event for the sake of fitting into the dress; she remarked that she couldn’t fit into it even after losing this weight and had to wear the dress unzipped in the back and change into the replica later on in the night. This caused anger because it portrayed an unhealthy example for everyone who looked up to her. The Reality TV Star was also criticized for a gift that she had gotten along with the dress: a lock of Marilyn Monroe’s hair. This piece of news had resulted in even more outrage as many found it disrespectful that she was using Marilyn’s name to attract attention.
On the other hand, there were many outstanding looks from the gala which paid tribute to indigenous and minority groups of the Gilded Age. Riz Ahmed wore a pair of work boots to pay homage to immigrant workers of the time.
Quannah Chasinghorse, who is both a model and an activist for Indigenous People’s rights and climate change, was another name who had both a beautiful and a meaningful outfit. She was dressed in a blue gown designed by Prabal Gurung, a fashion designer who has multiple platforms aiming to raise awareness about minority groups. The gown was made out of repurposed and environmentally friendly material. In addition to her dress, Chasinghorse wore traditional Indigenous jewelry which celebrated the history and culture of her community. The jewelry was made by Lenise Omeasoo, a fellow Indigenous rights activist. These truly commemorated and celebrated indigenous people.
Director Rahda Blank’s outfit was an homage to the Gilded Age’s “women practitioners of ancestral arts from Africa’’ with her indigo-stained fingers, colorful headpiece, machete, and cigar. She also posted on Instagram that she was asked by the MET to help create a room in the following exhibition for a dress designed by Maria Hollander who was a white abolitionist. When Blank went on to ask who had actually made the dress, her question went unanswered as the seamstress of the dress was not known. Her reply to the MET’s request after she heard this was a no, as she wrote in her caption.
“I would rep a woman who could have made Hollander’s dress — an Obeah Woman who by day used her hands to sew, cook, wash White folk clothes & tend to their children and by night used her hands to conjure spells for our survival using ancestral African spiritual practices not meant to survive the middle passage. […] This woman would represent the unseen Black women who have sewn the fabric of this country but she would also be my armor as faces and bodies like mine aren’t usually seen or celebrated in these spaces.”
Each of these looks was at first deemed as not following the theme, however, this would only be the case with Eurocentric standards as each of the public figures simply portrayed the theme as it would have been for their communities during the Gilded Age.
Like any other year, most of the male figures at the event wore the usual three-piece suit; a few struck out with originality and accordance with the theme including names such as Anderson Paak and Evan Mock. While Paak wore an embroidered jacket that reflected the extravagance of the era in a groovy manner, Mock went all out with a corset-style blazer reminiscent of the era’s womenswear. Perhaps one of the most accurately dressed men was Hamish Bowles, who is not a celebrity but rather a fashion journalist and editor. He wore one of the night’s few tophats, even though it was a staple for the Gilded Age, and many praised him for following the theme better than most celebrities.
There were many other disappointments throughout the night, as many viewers expressed that they felt as though brands only wanted to advertise their recent collections on famous attendees instead of giving them looks that would suit the theme of the night. This is not a recent occurrence though, as this has been the case for many years with attendees not sticking to the theme. For example, Sebastian Stan, one of the public figures that completely ignored the theme, went for a bright pink suit.
The MET Gala, with the enthusiasm, that the annual event brings being dampened with the Covid-19 pandemic, came back with full force this Monday, yet most looks seemed to be determined to be off a theme or dull. Many came to accept that the overall turnout for following the theme was better than most years, with at least a few participants having had incredible looks and many with mediocre ones, but they also expressed hopes of more attendees sticking to the theme next year while continuing to put their own twist to it.