From camp to social commentary: How the Met Gala has evolved throughout its existence

By Liv Barry
Elm Staff Writer

For 78 years, the Met Gala has served as a playground for celebrities and designers to show off their best looks.

Hosted by Vogue Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, the Met Gala raises money for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.

Artists, influencers, models, and the like gather on the first Monday of every May (or in this year’s case, the first Monday of September), to flaunt their outfits according to each year’s theme.

For anyone interested in fashion, the Met Gala is one of the biggest events of the year. As the Metropolitan Museum of Art states on its website, “The party is sometimes referred to as the ‘Oscars of the East Coast’ or the ‘Super Bowl of Fashion.’”

Over the past decade, the public has seen a shift in how celebrities dress for the special night.

In previous years, outfits worn to the Met Gala were fashionable, but toned down. Gowns and tuxedos were par for the course, a show of sophistication and wealth. However, in the past 10 years outfits have shifted from reserved black tie to high fashion.

Less than 10 years ago, the Met Gala looked very different from what is seen today. For 2012’s gala, celebrities played into common fashion trends that could be found at the mall. Off-the-shoulder and high-low dresses, large bows, pleather, and dyed hair were rampant on that year’s red carpet.

Attendees played it safe again in 2013, largely not following the year’s theme of “Punk: Chaos to Couture.” The only person who dared to challenge the sophisticated status quo was Madonna, who arrived completely pantsless, wearing only fishnet tights and an oversized blazer.

After 2013, the standard Met Gala attire began to shift.

With the rise in popularity of social media, where everyone could instantly see and thus judge attendees for what they were wearing, attendees realized that they had to step up their game.

Because of the pressure to keep up with the public expectations, celebrities had to develop new, more extravagant looks to keep up with the times.

The shift in attire also meant a shift in theme. Where in previous years, the themes of each year’s Met Gala typically centered around a designer or specific style, the themes moving forward reflected culture and social change.

The year 2015 was the first time that celebrities started to show out in high fashion looks for the Met Gala. Following the theme “China: Through the Looking Glass,” attendees wore extravagant ensembles that channeled Chinese culture. Rihanna set the standard for that year’s theme, showing up in a floral, fur-lined robe, complete with a 16-foot train.

Since then, the Met Gala has seen themes about technology, religion, and this year, America. Even the looser themes, like “Commes des Garcons” and “Camp,” can be construed to represent social issues.

Some of the decade’s most iconic fashion moments are from these Met Galas. Most notably, people look back on 2018’s “Heavenly Bodies” and 2019’s “Notes on Camp” when talking about the event’s most iconic looks.

Chadwick Boseman’s 2018 look, a white suit made to resemble a priest’s cassock, is an outfit that is still talked about on social media three years later. Zendaya seems to outdress her fellow attendees every year; in 2018, she wore a chain mail dress and blunt bob in allusion to Joan of Arc, and in 2019, she donned a replica of Cinderella’s blue dress, complete with LED lights inside the gown to make the dress shine. In 2019, celebrities who play with gender roles in their day-to-day styles, such as Janelle Monáe and Ezra Miller, wore dynamic, fun ensembles that reflected their gender non-conforming identities.

This year, the theme “America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” inspired a handful of outfits meant to create conversation about inequity in the country.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sparked controversy by wearing a dress reading “Tax the Rich,” igniting discourse. Similarly, Cara Delevingne donned a shirt that read “Peg the Patriarchy,” which was quickly denounced by some feminists as regressive for equating penetration to being weak.

While these celebrities were making political statements on the red carpet, a protest was being held outside of the Met Gala.

According to Black Enterprise, “Several protesters were arrested outside of Monday’s annual Met Gala event held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The protesters were there to speak against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, calling on him to defund the police.”

One attendee, actress and transgender rights activist Indya Moore, has commented on the protests and subsequent arrests.

“I had to really think about if it is truly in alignment with what I care about, because I think it is possible to be an artist and a creative and simultaneously not invest in make believe during a time make believe is weaponized against the truth, during a time where honesty and transparency is more important than ever,” Moore said on a statement on their Instagram.

While the event has been a cornerstone of the fashion world for years, this past week has called the sustainability of the Met Gala into question. Many are offended by how the event is an ostentatious display of wealth of celebrities during a time of extreme inequity in the country. However, the Met Gala has already seen radical change this past decade, so a drastic change in structure in light of social change could be on the horizon.

Photo courtesy of @AOC on Twitter

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