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As I watched the early Met Gala red carpet photos surface, my thoughts went something like this: WOW! Huh. LOVE that! Do not love that. Um. Ok? Sure? WHAT. Well, that's a choice.
“It’s all over the place!” I texted a friend.
To be fair, the dress code for the night is as difficult as they come. The event is a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s famed Costume Institute; each year the gala has a theme based on the corresponding exhibition. Themes are hard. An ensemble that is too big or too obvious can risk looking ridiculous. Worse, though, is playing it safe and missing the opportunity to shine on the biggest night of the U.S. fashion calendar.
This year's theme felt extra tricky, with an exhibit sponsored called: “In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion.” I’ll be honest, my eyes widened a bit when I first read about the plans. Sure, American fashion could use a moment of celebration. But as a country we are in the midst of an overdue reckoning, grappling with our problematic history under the strain of a global pandemic. Could a red carpet, filled with ridiculously famous and/or wealthy people, properly reflect that?
The night fell short in many ways. Model and activist Quannah Chasinghorse, wearing Peter Dundas for Revolve and her family’s turquoise jewelry, looked exquisite and deserved more attention; what’s more, given the theme, the evening should have gone much further to include Indigenous people. Size inclusivity, which has been the topic of much discussion at New York Fashion Week in recent years, felt missing in a meaningful way, too. Disability advocate Heather Tomko noted on Instagram that the famed red carpet, which ascends the front steps of the Met, could use a ramp.
What to make of the fashion we did see? There were solid attempts to tap into classic American aesthetics, seen in Lupita Nyong’o’s denim Versace gown or the western-inspired leather belt and hat Jennifer Lopez layered on top of her Ralph Lauren sequin dress. Homages to American style icons, too, jumped out. My favorite was Keke Palmer honoring Diana Ross in Sergio Hudson. Kim Kardashian meme’d herself into Internet history clad in head-to-toe black Balenciaga (face covering included), her presence in pictures adding instant pandemic-era doom.
German pop star Kim Petras wore a horse head (yes, really) on the carpet alongside designer Hillary Taymour of Collina Strada. “We could be on the best-dressed list, or the worst-dressed list, but hopefully it’s one of those moments people will reference. ‘Remember that time Kim Petras and I dressed up as horses for the Met gala?’” Taymour told the BBC.
As I scrolled, I wondered what Anna Wintour, who has served as editor-in-chief of Vogue since 1988 and oversees every aspect of the Met Gala, was thinking of this anything-goes approach. It’s like she gave everyone their marching orders and then they ran in their own, very disparate directions.
But the more I sat with it, the more I realized maybe the chaos was the point? Or, at the very least, appropriately reflective of this moment in time. COVID has messed with our minds and our wardrobes for a solid year and a half now. The rampant Delta variant and a maddening refusal by some to get vaccinated have made the future of the virus uncertain. The news cycle is painful, from Haiti to Afghanistan to the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Ida.
The long-awaited return of the Met Gala (last year’s was cancelled, this year’s postponed) felt like a collective, cathartic release, the pent-up desire for fashion exploding like confetti out of a cracker. It did not make for a cohesive red carpet but who can be expected to get it together right now? Who wants to be told what to wear and how to wear it? The photo montages give off big live-in-the-moment vibes. Who knows what tomorrow holds? Make the most of today.
You know me, I love an outfit with a little thought behind it. So I’ll close with five attendees and their designers who caught my eye for both following the theme and saying something at the same time.
Simone Biles in Area x Athleta
Glancing at the photos of Simone Biles on the red carpet, would you have guessed her gown weighed 88 (!) pounds? Made by Area, the black high-neck and long-sleeved base of Biles’s look reminded me of her gymnastics leotard. Layered on top, distorting her figure, was a white gown made of the 17,000 square feet of Swarovski glass crystal *chains* — how’s that for symbolism? OOF. The crushing weight this woman has been under for years, masked by sparkles. As the night went on, Biles shed first the train and then the bodice of the gown, wearing just the unitard underneath. Gosh, that must have felt good.
Lili Reinhart in Christian Siriano
Queen Elizabeth II had symbols of the Commonwealth embroidered on her coronation gown and Meghan Markle did the same with her gorgeous statement wedding veil. So you know I swooned when Christian Siriano came up with the American equivalent, adorning Lili Reinhart’s gown with flowers from all 50 states. Comparisons were made between Reinhart’s Siriano dress and a similar look by Moschino worn by Irina Shayk (which, yes, they do look alike). But I'm here for the thought Siriano put into his design.
Megan Rapinoe in Sergio Hudson
I was more than a little worried that more than a few people would show up looking like the American flag last night. Thankfully, I only saw two big names go that route, both executed well. Blondie’s Debbie Harry wore a gown by Zac Posen with a disintegrating flag over a hoop skirt. But I prefered Megan Rapinoe’s Sergio Hudson ensemble. We are used to seeing the Olympic soccer star in a red, white, and blue uniform, which made her cherry red suit and blue star shirt feel like a subversive leveling up. And how about Rapinoe’s Edie Parker clutch that read: “In Gay We Trust.”
Amanda Gorman in Vera Wang
Second on my list of theme-based fears was that someone would show up dressed as the Statue of Liberty. No one did! Well done, everyone! Amanda Gorman’s look by Vera Wang was the perfect nod, honoring the monument without looking costumey. The poet and co-chair of the evening radiated in a vibrant blue gown by Vera Wang, its draping reminiscent of the tunic worn by Lady Liberty. Like the statue, she held a book — or rather, an Edie Parker clutch shaped like a book that read “Give Us Your Tired” on the cover. To symbolize her experience as a poet laureate, Gorman told Vogue, she wore a laurel crown by Jennifer Behr. Her glam included tiny crystals across her eyes, meant to evoke “the stars on the American flag” and "echo the shape of the flag blowing in the wind,” makeup artist Joanna Simkin also told the magazine.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Brother Vellies by Aurora James
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's “Tax the Rich” gown from Brother Vellies by Aurora James checked *all* the boxes for me. There's so much to this look. The details on the off-the-shoulder dress, with buttons and pockets, made it appear as if she was shimmying free from a suit jacket. The gown was white, a possible nod to women’s suffrage as well as blank canvas for the lettering on the back. You could see tiny bits of red on the edge of her torso, a hint of what was to come. And when she turned around...BAM. There was the writing, scrawled like graffiti.
AOC posted one photograph to her Instagram feed last night, but it wasn't from the red carpet. It looked like it was from a fitting, with a mannequin off to one side of the picture and an errant hanger on the other, giving it a distinctly raw feel. The congresswoman didn't have a glamorous updo or even her signature red lip. “The medium is the message,” AOC captioned the shot.
(Top photo via Getty Images)