Another year has passed, and another year I am unfortunately disappointed by the Met Gala’s red carpet. Ever since the stunning response to the 2018 theme of Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, the collective looks have not delivered. However, this year, Gilded Glamour and White Tie, was particularly disappointing, especially as there was so much design promise from the theme. From crinoline and corsets to gigot sleeves and the bustle, there was so much to play with, and that’s only mentioning women’s fashion of the period. The theme, or lack of it in some cases, does raise questions about its appropriateness, the rose-tinted presentation of the period and the necessity to respond to themes.
From the outset, the theme was in the hot seat regarding its celebration of prosperity and luxury in a time of economic and political instability and uncertainty. I think this is a valid argument to have, of course, but I feel like the Met Gala and out-of-touch are pretty much synonymous. I don’t expect Anna Wintour or many of the celebrities to have much consideration for the real world when they host an event that has tickets costing over $30 000. Still, I was slightly disturbed by the celebration of the ‘Gilded Age’ following the American Civil War and its prosperity when it was only golden for a few. As much as there was economic prosperity, the healing of a nation divided by civil war was paid for by Lincoln’s Republican party giving up on African American rights. The first Ku Klux Klan was active during the Gilded Age, the Great Sioux War was also in the 1870s, and the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. I don’t think everything has to be political, and people do not owe a political statement every time they enter any spotlight, but I think I would have appreciated a more complex presentation of a time which showed that not all that glitters is gold. Riz Ahmed did give the closest to this, by celebrating the immigrant workers who were the foundation of the Gilded Age. Maybe, I know, I expect too much of the designers and guests, but their lack of acknowledgement certainly leaves me with a slight nagging in the back of my mind.
In regards to the actual evening, there’s a debate of whether the guests should be on theme, and I do think they should be. They are supposed to be celebrating a Met exhibition and the themed fashion is part of the whole theatrics of the event. As mentioned, the Gilded Age was filled with iconic and recognisable fashion moments, so when designers frequently used none of those references, it feels like they deliberately ignored the brief. Even Anna Wintour didn’t bother to follow the theme. For me, just slapping a corset in a dress isn’t really very Gilded Age. From the theme, I was imagining obscene bustles or dramatic sleeves; I even had in mind a skeleton dress highlighting the crinoline. Sure, I am a historian and historical references are my favourite, but still – how were Gigi Hadid, Kim K, or the strikingly pink Sebastian Stan anywhere near the Gilded Age? I don’t want the designers and guests to make historical replicas, but you can take elements of design history, mix it with inspiration, and create something that celebrates both old and new. This finally leads me to the most disappointing part of it all – most of the outfits were just not that good. There were some exceptions, and some were pretty, but, on the whole, the designs were honestly uninspired and rather dull. The designers are supposed to be artists, full of passion for their craft, dare I say even passion for the history of fashion, and this really didn’t come across. More than half of the outfits could have been worn for any other red carpet or film premier that year. The Met Gala is supposed to be bold and exciting, but this year it just wasn’t.
Despite my moaning, it wasn’t all bad; there were some diamonds amongst the coal. Of course, Blake Lively stole the show in a stunning Versace dress that was inspired by the oxidation of the Statue of Liberty, which was dedicated in 1886. While it was a showstopper, I am confused by the fact that her bodice and main dress featured a design inspired by the 1930s, the Empire State building and the Art Deco movement. But, I’m choosing to ignore this. Nicola Coughlan fully embraced the full drama of the period in a Richar Quinn gown, and Billie Eilish’s Gucci dress is exactly what I thought this evening would have been all about. I will defend Bad Bunny until I die because he absolutely delivered; his garments were inspired by the androgynous styles appearing in women’s clothing at the time, so to put it back into a man’s outfit created a unique but highly distinctive Gilded Age interpretation. In a theme which gives all men a very boring get-out option of simply following the ‘white tie’ aspect of the brief, this was refreshing.
I should say, as much as I am disappointed, there are still too many people to mention by name that made a good attempt. It’s just unfortunate that these few have been tainted by their fellow guests who put very little thought in. There was so much potential, and for some reason the vast majority of people just didn’t deliver. Hopefully, after the negative press this year’s round of outfits have received, next year will be better (yes, I’m an optimist). Oh well, I will wait for another year to see Blake Lively again in a gorgeously themed gown, and I hope others will follow suit.