By: Sumaiya Nasir | September 20, 2021
Last Monday night, the streets of Fifth Avenue were glowing with camera light, filled with the sound of chatter and hundreds of camera shutters clicking at once, reminiscent of a pre-pandemic New York City. The highly anticipated 2021 Met Gala marked the end of this year’s New York Fashion Week, as well as a return to (a new) normalcy.
The Met Gala is acclaimed as fashion’s biggest night, with fashion enthusiasts tuning in from all over the world to see the red carpet looks. The Met Gala was put on a two-year hold due to the ongoing pandemic, and it finally returns amid fashion month.
The Met Gala, traditionally held on the first Monday of May, was pushed to September this year because of concerns surrounding the Delta variant. Guests were required to be fully vaccinated prior to attending. The gala is a fundraiser for the Anna Wintour Costume Institute, which displays the largest collection of fashion in the world, with pieces over seven centuries old. It is the only department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is not funded by the museum. The event is put on yearly to raise money for the exhibition, and only the most elite (and wealthy) of our society are invited to attend. It wasn’t until the ‘70s that the gala became a themed event based on the Institute’s exhibitions that year. From then on, it became a fashion event where musicians, artists, athletes, politicians, and socialites dress up to mingle and donate to the Institute.
This year’s theme was “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” celebrating American fashion and designers. The vagueness of the theme allowed for guests to interpret the theme in their own way, adding to the anticipation of the event. Among these looks were homages to old Hollywood icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, tributes to Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin, and commemorations of Black influence in American fashion and beauty.
Anna Wintour, the woman behind the madness and longtime Editor-in-Chief of “Vogue” magazine since 1988 as well as the artistic director of “Conde Nast”, is regarded as the most influential figure in fashion. Anna Wintour was asked to host the Met Gala for the first time in 1995 and has since solidified her position as chair.
The Costume Institute was renamed the Anna Wintour Costume Institute in 2014 in honor of all of the work that she has done for the museum and the world of fashion. Wintour chooses a set of hosts each year based on the pop culture climate, this year’s being Gen Z co-chairs Amanda Gorman, Naomi Osaka, Timothée Chalamet, and Billie Eilish.
Many believe that this year’s Met Gala was underwhelming compared to previous year’s. For one, the Met Gala was missing a few familiar faces – Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Blake Lively, Kylie Jenner, and Zendaya to name a few. These artists are usually the stars of the show, and their absence from the red carpet was noticeable. Even Rihanna, who is always the hit of the ball, did not show up until late that night and made little splash in her black Balenciaga ensemble.
This year’s Met Gala was criticized because of its lack of creativity that has been seen in years past. Heavenly Bodies, for example, was an iconic year for the Met Gala due in part to the theme that was chosen as well as the guest list. The theme was created to weave fashion with the religious artworks carried by the museum, and the guests did not disappoint. Blake Lively, for example, wore a stunning Versace gown, the bodice of the dress jewel-encrusted, and the train a velvety red with gold embroidery. Her look was finished with a gold spiked headpiece that alludes to a gold crown often seen in Italian Renaissance period work, which is an indication of holiness and purity. Contrasting this look was Zendaya, who dressed as Joan of Arc, a Catholic heroine who led the French to victory under divine command, in a metallic Versace ensemble. The dress has characteristics of medieval armor with its armored chest and shoulder, finished with draping chain mail. The look was accompanied by a bob wig, fashioned to look the same as Joan of Arc’s. These are just two examples of the creativity that was put into the guests' looks, something that was lacking in this year’s lineup.
Best Looks of the Night:
Taking these criticisms into consideration, there were certainly some looks that followed the theme, displaying iconic fashion moments and references on the steps of the Met last week:
Eilish stole the stage in her Marilyn Monroe-esque peach-colored ball gown designed by Oscar de la Renta. An homage to old Hollywood glam, Eilish said that her inspiration behind choosing the design were the holiday Barbie dolls from her childhood – something that many young American girls wished to have. The dress has elements of Billie’s own style weaved into it, with the bustier corset on the outside of the dress, rather than on the inside as they were typically worn. The corset being worn as outerwear is a trendy look, and Billie makes it look just as elegant as the rest of the dress. The designer of the dress, Oscar de la Renta, is a renowned American brand, and the combination of this with the Marilyn Monroe inspired hair and makeup, from the pouty lips to the bold black eyeliner and mascara, and the bouncy, curly locks makes this one of the better looks of the night.
Yara Shahidi channeled Josephine Baker in her custom Dior dress this week. Josephine Baker was an American-born French singer and dancer as well as a civil rights activist, who became a symbol for Black American beauty in the ‘20s. The dress is similar to a custom Dior piece worn by Baker in the ‘50s, both nude-colored and decorated in beads and crystals. The look was paired with matching elbow-length gloves and a tulle floor-length veil. Even the hair referenced Baker’s iconic curl on the forehead. Shahidi looked elegant and classy and perfectly exhibited the impact that black American artists have had on American culture and fashion.
Kendall Jenner wore a stunning dress by Givenchy, referencing legendary actress Audrey Hepburn’s dress in the 1964 film, My Fair Lady. While Hepburn herself was British, it is difficult to think of American cinema and not think of Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn was the standard when it came to fashion and beauty in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and her legacy as one of the most famous actresses continues to live on. The dress combines French couture with old and new Hollywood - the dress and jewelry are adorned in white crystals, similar to the original worn by Hepburn. Jenner’s design differs in that the rest of the dress is sheer, accentuating her body, and giving it a more modern look to Hepburn’s dress.
“Euphoria” star Barbie Ferreira wore an American burlesque inspired dress made only of pearls and crystals. In an interview with Vogue, Ferreira said that she wanted to create a look that fused old Hollywood and new Hollywood together. The dress also has 1920s flapper influence in the shaping and tasseled look at the bottom of the dress. The dress was expertly designed to accentuate the chest and waist, and the pearls falling down her arms like sleeves gives the dress a life of its own. The dress also has elements of 1920s art deco, which refers to a design popularized in the 1920s and ‘30s and is distinguished by bold lines and geometric shapes - think “The Great Gatsby” but as a dress. This design is displayed with its bold lines of silver crystals that run down the length of the dress, outlined with pearls. Overall, the dress makes many references to 1920s American culture.
Emily Blunt wore a sheer custom Miu Miu dress. The dress referenced the beautiful Hedy Lamarr in the 1941 film “Ziegfeld Girl”. The film follows the story of three young women in 1920s New York as they navigate through relationships and their careers, and the film has made over 3 million dollars according to MGM records. Hedy Lamarr, who played Sandra, was an Austrian actress, famous for her beautiful looks and iconic costume in the film. The look was replicated before by singer Lana del Rey at the 2018 Grammys, and it is not a surprise that the starry dress made a return at this year's gala - the dress is adorned with stars and spangles, complete with a white cape and star embellished headpiece. The dress is slightly different from the original, which is a looser fit. Blunt’s dress hugs her frame nicely, and her cape is attached to the necklace at her throat, different from Lamarr’s whose cape is an extension of her sleeves.
Anok Yai’s look was also inspired by Josephine Baker. The dress is a nod to old Hollywood glam and is part of Oscar de la Renta’s Spring 2022 collection. The dress is a black and silver form fitting piece and was described as an “intricate and celestial crystal gown” by Oscar de la Renta due to the blinding silver jewels sewn into the fabric. She completes the look with a black feather boa around her arms, which she pulls off effortlessly. Anok Yai’s makeup was simple and natural, and her hair is styled to look similar to Josephine Baker’s short and sleek cut.
Lupita Nyong’o was one of the few guests who wore denim to the event. Denim is historically a very American fabric. The fabric, brought to America by Bavarian immigrant Levi Strauss in the mid-1800s, was popular among miners, and workers would wear denim pants and overalls due to its comfort and versatility. Denim was revolutionized by stars like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean in the 1950s and ‘60s, making the fabric mainstream for both men and women, and has become a staple of American fashion and everyday wear. The dress was designed by Versace and blends different shades of denim. The dress hugs her figure beautifully, with an elaborate train that snakes around her feet.
Quannah Chasinghorse undoubtedly wore one of the best looks of the night. An Indigenous model and activist, Chasinghorse wore an outfit inspired by her North American heritage. The draping of the gold dress compliments her body shape, and the sleeves billow down to the floor - if she were to raise her arms, it would look as though she had wings. The designer of the dress, Peter Dundas, wanted her to look as though she were flying.The layering of the gold and turquoise jewelry ties the color of Chasinghorse’s dress and makeup together. Turquoise is a fundamental color in indigenous jewelry, as it is thought to bring good luck to the wearer and is also a symbol of strength and status. Chasinghorse believes that representing and reclaiming her heritage is important, making it a strong part of her identity. She said in an interview with “Vogue” that “we need to show the world that we are still here, and that the land that everyone occupies is stolen Native land.” The look is even more powerful when applied to the theme of the night, because what is more American than an Indigenous person?
Worst Looks of the Night
Some of the worst looks (and there were many), were due to the lack of creativity and inability to match the theme of the event. A majority of the male guests, including Channing Tatum and Justin Bieber showed up in basic tuxedos, claiming that they were representing traditional American men’s fashion. They did not achieve the desired effect - their looks were better suited for a dinner party, rather than fashion's biggest night. Many of the women appeared to have thrown on an outfit last second while others were too over the top, looking more “camp” than American. There are only a few worth mentioning, as they were memorable for their horrible executions, the others too insignificant to remember.
Kim Kardashian-West made headlines for her 2021 Met Gala look, but not for the reasons one may think. The reality show star is no stranger to the Met Gala, and while she is known for her bold choices in fashion, this is her most daring, and ugliest, look yet. She arrived wearing head-to-toe black Balenciaga, her face and body completely covered by the fabric. When asked how her look related to American independence, she merely responded via Instagram with “what’s more American than a T-shirt head to toe?” Both her look and her explanation are boring and confusing. Fashion is meant to test the boundaries of art, something that the Met Gala strives for, and this look does anything but.
Dressed in Dior, Cara Delevigne wore a sleeveless white top, designed to look like a bulletproof vest that displayed the words “Peg the Patriarchy,” a term coined by Luna Matatas, a queer woman of color artist. Neither Delevigne nor Dior credited or consulted with Matatas before revealing the design at the Met Gala. Ignoring the fact that the look was inappropriate, it takes away from the desired effect when it steals from a lesser-known artist. Moreover, this blatantly fails to recognize a need for intersectionality in feminism today - the look gave more “white feminism” than it did “women empowerment.”
Addison Rae, TikToker and star of the largely unpopular film “He’s All That”, a spinoff of the iconic 1999 chick flick “She’s All That”, was invited to the Met Gala despite her lack of influence in pop culture and fashion. Many (including myself) were upset to see the Tiktoker on the guest list. This year’s Met Gala included many social media “influencers,” most of which have no interest or influence in fashion. It makes sense for Youtubers such as Emma Chamberlain, a model and Internet personality and Nikkie de Jager, a member of the online beauty community to be in attendance. Addison Rae, however, is among the many questionable guests at the ball. There was nothing particularly interesting about the dress worn by Rae - she wore a 2003 Tom Ford dress, and many speculate that she was gifted the dress by Kourtney Kardashian, who wore a very similar dress in 2019 to a family Christmas party. Rumors aside, the dress was ordinary in comparison to Billie Eilish’s extravagant ball gown, and Quannah Chasinghorse’s gorgeous gold and turquoise attire. It was a simple red dress with a corset as the bodice, attached to a fitted pencil skirt that pools onto the floor around her feet. She paired this look with a white blonde shoulder-length wig and accents of silver jewelry. The look overall was not awful, but it was predictable and dull - certainly not something one wears to their first Met Gala.
The Met Gala will be making its return on May 2, 2022, where the theme will be a continuation of the American fashion exhibit called “An Anthology of Fashion.” The Costume Institute will be working with American film directors and will feature men’s and women’s fashion dating as early back as the 18th century to the present, with different rooms dedicated to each moment in American fashion. The theme is more specific than this past week’s theme, hopefully providing more guidance for designers and guests, and we hope to see a more refined guest list and looks.