Gilded Glamour: The Met Gala Problem

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Earlier this month saw the return of the Met Gala, the social event of the celebrity season, synonymous with style, fashion, and couture. A-list celebrities partnered with high-profile designers gather on the red carpet to exhibit expensive looks, whilst raising money for charity. Anyone who’s anyone is definitely in attendance. 

However, in recent years, the birth of the fast fashion industry and an increase in sales of high-priced designer items has turned the Gala into an excessive display of wealth and affluence. What should be a celebration of fashion and diverse cultures has now become a battle arena of designers fighting for domination among the luminary elite, obsessed with labels and recognition, which seems trivial and sickening in a world where so many other issues require urgent attention. 

Anyone who’s anyone is definitely in attendance

The issue that seems the most prominent to me in this power play is the lack of adherence to the theme, with designers instead choosing to ignore it, and advertise their own stupidly expensive creations. This year’s was ‘In America: An Anthology of Fashion’, but the more specific dress code, according to Vogue, was ‘Gilded Glamour’, which spawned some very loose interpretations. Supposedly referring to the Gilded Age, the period from 1870-1900 in America known for its rapid industrialization and vast class divide, with the upper classes accumulating great wealth and the working class living in poverty, the presentation on offer was uncomfortably accurate. The period takes its name from Mark Twain’s 1893 satire on greed and political corruption, an era of history that was especially tumultuous. Occurring after the Civil War, it has been criticised for its social and economic inequality, with the cities’ elite hosting grand balls and parties, whilst millions of immigrants came to the country to find work, so it seems surprising for the Met to be on board with the glorification of such a controversial topic. 

However, the focus of the Gala is, of course, on fashion. The first issue of Vogue actually launched in 1892 during the Gilded Age, so one would expect a magnificent display of style, celebrating the birth of the world’s foremost fashion innovator. The late 19th century was defined by extravagance, and saw tulle dresses, lace, ruffles, and a combination of textiles such as silk, velvet, and satin, due to fabrics being manufactured more cheaply. Corsets were still popular, exposing the feminine décolletage, as well as hats among the elite, and the rise of the bustle, a padded device designed to expand the look of women’s waists from the back. Channelling Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, the attendees were expected to embody the grandeur of this style, but it would appear that many celebs did not get the memo. One of the few noticeable examples would be Billie Eilish, whose Gucci ivory satin dress, complete with corset and bustle, was completely upcycled and epitomises the aesthetic of Regency-core, as well as Genesis Suero, the previously-unknown reporter who has gone viral for being beautifully outfitted in a vintage, era-appropriate dress. Cara Delavigne also did not hold back, covering her entire upper body in gold paint, supposedly aiming for the more literal definition of the word ‘gilded’, and personally, I think she looked incredible. 

The other celebrities interpreted the theme exceptionally individually, ranging from Sebastian Stan’s completely hot pink suit to Gigi Hadid’s cape-like puffer jacket, both of which seemed a little ridiculous. Many celebs stuck more to the ‘American’ theme, such as Alicia Keys embodying her smash hit song with a black cape bejewelled with the New York skyline, or Blake Lively with her impressive Versace gown, which referenced both the Statue of Liberty and the ceiling of Grand Central Station, and featured a red-carpet transformation which was, to be fair, stunning. 

As expected, the Met is an opportunity for high-profile designers to advertise their new lines and promote their contribution to the innovation of the fashion industry. However, it seems that in recent years, it has instead become more of a display of wealth, emphasising quite how far away the celebrity world is, despite best attempts to make it accessible. For example, Kim Kardashian arrived wearing ’s original dress from her infamous ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ performance to JFK in 1962, which to me, seems like doing the dress an injustice. On top of this, it sold for $5 million, the most expensive dress ever to be sold at auction, and Kim forced herself to shed 7 kg in just three weeks in order to fit into it, which promotes an incredibly unhealthy way of losing weight, for an unworthy purpose. Additionally, all celebs who attended the after-party had another look to change into, because they wouldn’t be caught dead in the same dress twice. Emma Stone did arrive in a dress she wore to her wedding in 2020, but, that being said, it was Louis Vuitton to begin with. 

They wouldn’t be caught dead in the same dress

So, my question is this — what is the necessity? All this only emphasises the fact that the whole thing, as with many celebrity events, revolves around money. Not only must one be invited to attend, but they’re also expected to pay a staggering $35,000 for a ticket, if not chosen by a designer to fill their selected table (and whose outfit they choose for you). Granted, much of this goes to charity, but the money raised goes to the Met’s Costume Institute to help them operate museum exhibits, as opposed to urgent humanitarian aid, and, as Vogue organises the event, it is still unknown exactly how much of it goes into Anna Wintour’s pocket. This lurid exhibition of wealth and status ironically seems to fit the theme more than the fashion on offer, implying excess and unnecessary money, which the rest of the world is expected to applaud. One dictionary definition of ‘gilded’ is ‘having a showy appearance that conceals something of little worth’, which I must express, feels uncomfortably and disappointingly true.

However, not everyone failed to do their research into this year’s theme in preference of emphasising superficiality, and Riz Ahmed deserves a special commendation. Against the backdrop of gold, glitter, and sequins, Ahmed arrived in a simple navy jacket with matching drawstring trousers and knee-high boots, all from an immigrant designer, 4S Designs. He made sure the underrepresented group of the Gilded Age did not go unheard amongst the loud voices of the elite, and without whom, there would be nothing ‘gilded’. I think his statement was spectacular, and I only wish there was more of it. 

This year more than ever there has been many an Internet debate about how the theme offered so much potential, and yet so much of it seems to have been missed. Luxurious events such as the Met are important and impressive occasions, but only if they are carried out under the right causes, which at the moment, it does not seem to be doing. Perhaps the months Vogue spends planning the Gala could also be dedicated to a more important, and dare I say it, worthier cause than film stars and musicians posing on a velvet carpet in front of hundreds of cameras, in outfits that will definitely never be touched again.

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