On the second Monday in September, New York City’s upper Fifth Avenue was a buzz of cream-colored carpets and clacking stilettos for the first time in more than two years. What seemed to be an eternity of silence for the fashion world has finally come to an end with the return of the 2021 Met Gala.
For those who may not know, the Met Gala is the fashion equivalent of the Oscars. The Super Bowl of fashion, if you will. It’s the party of the year where everyone who is anyone comes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to celebrate the Costume Institute's annual new exhibit. Every Met Gala adorns a different, far from bland, theme that every A-lister tries to top. This year’s theme was “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.”
The theme of “American Independence” seems simple. Just throw on a pair of cowboy boots, a belt with one of those big buckles, maybe even dress head to toe in red, white and blue, right? Wrong.
Andrew Bolton, The Costume Institute’s Curator in Charge, told Vogue he centered this year’s event around the question, “Who gets to be American?” Nowadays, American fashion designers are at the forefront of conversations encircling diversity, sustainability, gender fluidity and body positivity. That being said, the Gala’s theme became a framework for designers to thoughtfully engage in their pieces for the show.
The 2021 Met Gala included more than 100 pieces, ranging from Marc Jacobs to La Réunion. Not one ensemble came close in similarity to the one before it, yet each one represented the common theme. So without further ado, here is what American Independence looks like, or at least through the scope of our nation’s A-listers.
Let’s first round up some of our favorite looks from the night.
Iman in Harris Reed- The model stole the show with a completely handmade gold leaf crown, jacquard bustier and flares, adorned with an enormous statement that created in collaboration with Vivienne Lake.
Kendall Jenner in Givenchy- Jenner is no stranger to the red carpet, but her sheer Givenchy ensemble may be her best effort to date. The gown, which was embellished with crystals and a jeweled neck piece, was inspired by the house’s muse and once American sweetheart Audrey Hepburn.
Kaia Gerber in Oscar de la Renta- A nod towards old Hollywood, Gerber looked timeless in her strapless black ball gown by Oscar de la Renta. The piece was a tribute to Bianca Jagger, who wore a similar Dior piece to the 1981 Met Gala. The top of Kaia Gerber’s corset bodice was aligned with beautiful ivy vines embroidered in black. Not to be dramatic or anything, but I don’t think I have ever seen anyone look more flawless in my life.
Lorde in Bode- Lorde flew the sustainability flag by flaunting a custom embroidered two piece that celebrated the American Arts and Crafts Movement. The designer Emily Bode is known for designing her menswear pieces with repurposed fabrics and garments. To go along with her sustainability motto, Bode brilliantly featured Lorde’s gown with detailed handwork of pressed pennies, 1920s cabochons and 1940s cracker jack charms in support of upcycling. From the white leather slip on shoes, the jeweled crown and everything in between, Lorde’s ensemble has to be my favorite of the night.
Timothée Chalamet in a ~mélange~ of designers- Chalamet’s 2021 Met Gala ensemble has been receiving an array of opinions due to his more ‘lax’ look. While some found the decision to wear sweatpants and Chuck Taylor All Stars to the biggest fashion event to date inappropriate, I personally found the juxtaposition to be quite powerful. Despite the fact that Chalamet’s outfit could double as a weekend in NYC uniform, he rocked it while still sporting some of the world’s most respected designers. The formality of the Rick Owens turtleneck and Haider Ackermann satin tuxedo jacket contrasted the informality of the sweatpants and sneakers. Ackermann, a French designer, told Vogue, “Whenever I visit America, I am always struck by the wonderful clash of uptown and downtown cultures, of music and sports, and all of this energy just mixing together.” The Gala co-host’s look paid homage to the contrasts of American fashion by implementing a fusion of street style and sleek tailoring.
I could write a novel focusing on every outfit's success story from this year’s gala, but I’ll spare you the time. There’s still a number of questionable looks that need to be discussed so please, grab a seat and microwave some popcorn because you’re in for a ride.
AOC in Aurora James- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district, definitely takes the crown for the most memorable yet controversial look of the night. AOC sported a white mermaid dress with the message “Tax the Rich” scrawled on her back in large red print. I don’t want to form biased opinions from my work, so let’s take a peek at both sides of the argument. Many in support of AOC’s ensemble believe that it was necessary for the activist to speak out while attending such an event. However, the praise has been shot down numerous times with claims that, “A true socialist would not attend a 35k ticket event in the first place” (John Ganz, Gawker.com). Nevertheless, this does not come down to a left-wing vs. right-wing debate. Politics aside, most spectators found her dress to be hypocritical and sickening due to the environment she was in. The Met Gala is known to host the world's wealthiest figures, where a ticket alone costs $35k and a table $300k. While it is still uncertain if AOC had to pay for a ticket or not, many found the statement on her dress to be hypocritical as she partied and stood with the faces of wealth themselves. Many claim the congresswoman used the term as an excuse to attend the extravagant event rather than actually doing beneficial work for the message behind it. In order to gain further opinions on the matter, I selected a random sample of Villanova students and asked whether they were in support of AOC’s public statement dress. The research ended with 83% of Villanovans against the matter, with a slim 17% in support.
Frank Ocean in Prada- Frank Ocean made a surprise Met Gala appearance in a black Prada sports jacket and trousers. The most notable part of his ensemble being an animatronic puppet baby painted neon green to match Ocean’s dyed hair. The puppet waved to the crowd while the Pink+White singer held the accessory on his hip and posed for photos. The puppet wore a onesie printed with a pattern from Ocean’s newly launched luxury company Homer. The robot baby received negative feedback from the nation as the message behind the doll is unclear, but to be frank (no pun intended), I do not care. It’s Frank Ocean. Frank Ocean can do whatever he wants.
Kim Kardashian in Balenciaga- The bar was set high for Kim Kardashian, who is known to top her previous Met Gala looks ever since her first debut in 2013. This year, Kardashian wore a stark black Balenciaga haute couture gown unlike anyone has seen before. The ensemble covered the A-lister head to toe, completely obscuring the famous physique she is most famous for. The look gave Kardashian something she has not experienced in a while: anonymity. While I find the message to be quite intriguing, Kim’s outfit has been the inspiration for many viral memes.
Addison Rae in Gucci- Newly famed influencer Addison Rae surprised many with her first Met Gala debut in an electric red 2003 Tom Ford for Gucci dress. Rae received a tremendous amount of backlash for attending the event due to the questionability of her fame and received hate over rumors for reusing Kourtney Kardashian’s 2019 Christmas dress. Despite the uncertainty of whether the rumor is true, many followers of the Met Gala are enraged that such an elite event would invite a TikToker over other A-listers.
Kim Petras in Collina Strada- Kim Petras wore a 3D horse head to the Met Gala. No thank you and enough said.
At last, it is clear that the 2021 Met Gala was full of both good and bad looks and an array of messages about American Independence. The event certainly proved that fashion is an artistic medium for much more than a few stitches and hems. Art is fashion and fashion is art. Onward to the 2022 Met Gala for “An Anthology of Fashion.” See you there.