by Melissa Paz-Flores (’22) | October 11, 2021
Camp: Notes on Fashion. China: Through The Looking Glass. Man and the Horse. All of these are past themes from New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual benefit gala, popularly known as “the Met.” Established in 1948, the Met Gala was a private, invitation-only dinner at first. Tickets were 50 dollars, a bargain compared to today’s $30,000 price tag. This benefit dinner was introduced to raise money for the museum’s Costume Institute, celebrating the opening of the major, thematic exhibition. But soon the fundraiser became better known as a night of dinner and high fashion. In 1973, the ball’s first-ever theme The World of Balenciaga skyrocketed the Met Gala into notoriety: it’s now labeled as “the party of the year.” With this year’s theme In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, celebrities from Madonna to Kim Kardashian’s silhouette were in attendance.
There’s always been something je ne sais quoi about the gala. Maybe it is the fête, a party hosted in a pristine art museum in the heart of North America’s fashion capital. Or maybe it’s the fact that many of those invited are A+ listers. Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, is known to hand-select guests. But did her judgment slip when she began inviting “influencers” like TikTok stars Addison Rae and Dixie D’Amelio?
From the red carpet reports to the live streams on Vogue’s website, I noticed that the gala is losing sight of its original aims: celebrating art and American culture. It is sinking into mediocrity: evolving into a corporate initiative, with brands promoting their labels through celebrities, and a competition between said celebrities for “Best Dressed.”
But here’s the thing—numerous celebrities and public figures are invited to the gala because of their interest and passion for the world of haute couture. There’s a fine line to be drawn: years of dedication from trailblazer Met attendees contributed greatly to the world of fashion. Social media fashionistas, however, promote the rise of fast fashion through their brand deals and sponsored Instagram posts, paying no attention to the artful form of self-expression.
But there are some positives to the evolving guest list, including activism and expressing beliefs freely. A notable outfit of the 2021 Gala came from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC donned a white off-the-shoulder gown, designed by Canadian immigrant Aurora Jones, with “tax the rich” scrawled onto the back in thick, Dr. Seuss-like letters: an ode to her proposal of raising marginal tax rates to benefit lower-income taxpayers and boost public service. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney wore a purple, white, and gold dress along with a purse that read “ERA YES,” meant to represent the continuing women’s suffrage movement and endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Met Gala’s luster is fading away, revealing fashion’s increased commercialization, but also making room for statements important to certain communities. As tacky or distasteful as some outfits may seem, others use their position of power for good, speaking up for others’ needs. It is time to keep the influencers online and amplify the advocates on the carpet.