This was a tremendous week for culture — MTV’s annual Video Music Awards were held on Sunday, with Lil Nas X claiming video of the year; New York Fashion Week transformed the city into a walking runway, debuting new collections in-person after a two year hiatus; and, most importantly, the Met Gala returned, after being postponed for four months (usually it’s the first Monday of every May). This year’s theme? In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.
The theme was named after the newest collection in the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which features a variety of pieces from designers new and old. Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Institute, gave Vogue editor Steff Yotka three words to define American fashion in an article on the new exhibit — “heterogeneity, diversity, and pluralism.” Bolton said, “the idea of reducing American fashion down to one definition is totally antithetical to what the exhibition is about.”
Indeed, American fashion is fickle, as demonstrated by the range of outfits worn by celebrities on this year’s beige carpet. Some stars took the theme quite literally, like Debbie Harry of Blondie, who wore a tattered red-and-white striped American flag skirt and tight denim jacket. Others, like Jennifer Lopez and Maluma, went with looks from the Wild West, donning a cowboy hat and red leather fringe jacket, respectively. And some made references to iconic outfits of the American past — like Billie Eilish’s homage to Marilyn Monroe, Gemma Chan’s nod to Anna May Wong, and Yara Shahidi’s look modeled after Josephine Baker, just to name a few.
In classic Met Gala tradition, however, many attendees failed to dress to the theme at all. Some male stars arrived in nothing more than a traditional black jacket, like Adrien Brody. The Met Gala steps are never the place to arrive in a basic suit and tie, regardless of how traditionally American that look may be. There were plenty of disappointingly basic red dresses — Addison Rae and Emily Ratajkowski, to name two. And, of course, celebrity couples who didn’t look bad but didn’t stand out, either — Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello; Justin and Hailey Bieber.
There were only a few guests who decided to use the American theme as a platform for political statements. Two congresswomen in attendance, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Carolyn Maloney, each wore custom statement pieces — Ocasio-Cortez in a white dress with the phrase “Tax the Rich” emblazoned in red print on the back; Maloney draped in strips of fabric declaring “Rights for Women.”.
Most interestingly, Kim Kardashian was elusively decked entirely in a tight black outfit, her face entirely covered — perhaps because there is nothing more American than Kim Kardashian’s iconic, shapely silhouette, which has defined American beauty standards for the past 20 years.
In my opinion, the best thematically dressed and most notable guests of this year’s Gala were Lupita Nyong’o, in a denim-inspired gown; Simone Biles and her 88-pound outfit; Kenneth Nicholson and his blue-belted dress; Quannah Chasinghorse in a look that represented Indigenous American fashion; and Tyler Mitchell in a red Bode suit.
The worst? Cara Delevingne, in a white armor plate with the words “Peg the Patriarchy” printed across the chest. Her attempt to make a political statement is slashed by the quirkiness of the word “peg” — not to mention that the usage of “peg” instead of “smash” or “crush” weaponizes an act of sexuality, which, if she was truly an opposer of the patriarchy, she would know is something to avoid.
Largely, though, I am disappointed by the lack of urgency in this year’s costumes. Just beyond the Metropolitan Museum steps, during the event, Black Lives Matter protesters gathered to rally against racial injustice and many were quickly arrested by police. The United States is and always has been fraught with extreme political and social turbulence — I expected celebrity attendees of an American-themed gala to reflect this more than they did. I suppose, though, there is nothing more American than celebrities demonstrating their decadent wealth in front of citizens suffering and fighting for their rights on the streets.