Every year, for one night only, celebrities get the chance to dazzle in Dior, become visions in Versace, and transform into glamour gods of Gucci. Every year, for one night only, there is an event with the aroma of opulent extravagance where all but austere is allowed. Every year, for one night only, the voices of reporters, fighting for a guest’s attention, fill the room and the paparazzi’s flash make the embellishments of ensembles glisten with a blinding effulgence. Every year, for one night only, is the Met Gala.
Sometimes known as the Met Ball, the Met Gala is one of, if not the most highly anticipated events in fashion held each year. Names on the event’s guest list include some of the world’s biggest actors, artists, athletes, models, and public figures, who congregate to walk the world-famous red (or in this year’s case, an underwhelming shade of beige) carpet that is unveiled at the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, colloquially referred to as the Met. The gala is held in honor of the yearly exhibits created by the Met’s Costume Institute, and every year, guests are encouraged to dress to a certain theme inspired by the exhibit.
On May 3, 2021, Vogue officially announced that this year’s Met Gala was to follow the theme of: “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” a theme rather more vague than vogue. This immediately inspired images of stars and stripes, which seemed rather inappropriate to many guests due to recent controversies surrounding the flag and its association with republicanism. Because of this, America’s star-spangled banner made little to no appearances throughout the night.
Instead, the like of Billie Eilish, Gemma Chan, and Yara Shahidi chose to channel some of the most legendary movie stars history has to offer. Their homages ranged from the American-born French entertainer and resistance agent, Josephine Baker, to the Old Hollywood supernovas, Marilyn Monroe, Anna May Wong, and Grace Kelly. Other guests, such as Amanda Gorman, Emily Ratajkowski, Jennifer Lopez, and the event coordinator herself, Anna Wintour, chose to represent American designers like Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang, and Ralph Lauren. Alternatively, certain guests were prepared with a quite literal statement drawn, sewn, or printed onto their clothing. “Equal Rights for Women,” “Tax the Rich,” and “Peg the Patriarchy” were all phrases that were ostentatiously embellished onto the ensembles of Congresswoman Caroyln Maloney, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and model Cara Delevigne.
Though the event’s elegance can not be denied, there is still a large group of people who believe that overall, the gala was one inscrutable outfit away from disaster. Kate Gordon, a writer at The Observer, makes the claim that the “issue falls more on the shoulders of Anna Wintour and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who chose the needlessly vague theme, not their guests.” Writers at The Georgetown Voice seem to agree, as they explain that the event’s confusion manifested because “many Americans are grappling with, either for the first or hundredth time, the uncertainty of what being American means,” which lead to the vast variety of outfits that obscure cultural and political boundaries. An example of this was Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich”, Aurora James dress was seen as slightly hypocritical as she was attending an event that is known to celebrate lavishness and luxury. Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Jeannete Nuñez tweeted that, “Only in America where a self-described Democratic socialist can wear a $10k ‘tax the rich’ dress, pay $30k for a ticket, and be praised as a champion for the poor. Champagne socialists like AOC are far removed from reality.” However, AOC was quick to respond to this backlash, saying that “NYC elected officials are regularly invited to attend the Met due to our responsibilities of overseeing our city’s cultural institutions that serve the public. I was one of several in attendance. Dress is borrowed.”
While we may never know the reason why Frank Ocean carried a mechanical toddler, and Kim Kardashian sported a bizarre, black Balenciaga morph suit, we do know that America is a country that prides itself on being a melting pot of cultures, perspectives and beliefs. Ultimately, it can be deduced that every person has a unique, and different interpretation of America, and that though this year’s Met Gala was complicated, we know the same holds true for lexicons and fashion.