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The stars at the 2021 Met Gala who embodied American Independence

@metmuseum on Instagram
@metmuseum on Instagram

Every year, some of the world’s biggest stars walk the grand steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the heart of New York City. The annual Met Gala is a fundraiser for The Costume Institute, one of the museum’s most distinguished collections. 

This year’s Met Gala coincided with the opening of a two-part exhibit – In America: A Lexicon of Fashion. 

The dress code for the event was “American Independence,” to be interpreted in collaboration between the invitees and the fashion designers who invited them. The looks that the invitees and their designers brought to the event stirred up a lot of controversy and discourse. Many critics called the looks boring and accused the stars of ignoring the theme, while others took issue with certain political statements that were made. 

Despite these claims, this year’s Met Gala brought an especially diverse myriad of interpretations, in a wide range of categories such as classic Americana, daring political statements, and contemporary reflections on what it means to be American.  

Some of the invitees were bold and fearless with their garments, while others took a more subtle approach to the “American Independence” theme. One of the more forward examples was worn by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Both her presence at the event and her choice of dress were met with passionate criticisms on both sides of the aisle. 

She wore a white gown designed by Aurora James with the words “TAX THE RICH” splattered across the back. The dress was smeared for being “performative activism” with people pointing out the irony in her wearing that statement at an event displaying overwhelming wealth. 

Others sanctimoniously labelled Ocasio-Cortez a hypocrite, citing that someone who espouses economic justice would never attend an event as lavish and ostentatious as the Met Gala.

While the dress itself was a performance, it’s hardly fair to call an active congresswoman performative, especially Ocasio-Cortez who has spent her time in congress fighting tooth and nail for tangible change. 

Moreover, criticizing her attendance based on the luxury of the event ignores the fact that as an elected official, she has an expectation to attend fundraising events for museums and other cultural institutions. It’s also quite reductive to the arts to water the Met Gala down to just a gluttonous display of wealth, when there is so much more to be understood about its purpose, as well as the hard work and creativity that goes into both the event and its fashion. 

While Ocasio-Cortez stole the show with her dress, other invitees made more subtle statements on American politics and social issues, including several looks channeling the Statue of Liberty. 

Poet laureate Amanda Gorman's  look was far and away one of the most meaningful and intricate. 

She wore a magical blue beaded gown by Vera Wang and a crystal hairpiece, resembling Lady Liberty’s iconic crown, but altered to symbolize the history of her title as poet laureate. She also held a blue clutch with the words “give us your tired” on it, a line from the poem etched on the Statue of Liberty itself. 

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The words are a poignant reminder of what America should be but often fails to live up to, a place of opportunity and refuge. 

In a similar sentiment, Timothée Chalamet reminded people of some of the more negative contrasts in America today. When interviewed on the carpet he reminded viewers that it’s important “not to get lost in the glamour of it because a lot of people are suffering,” 

Chalamet wore a luxurious white tuxedo jacket by Haider Ackerman and vintage Cartier brooches, paired with white sweatpants and classic white converse. Some people criticized his look for being overly simple, but the inspiration had a lot of depth to it. 

In an interview, Ackerman 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 … I wanted to create something inspired by this energy.”

While there were numerous political statements made, some used the event to appreciate the most nostalgic and beloved parts of Americana. 

Barbie was an unmistakable inspiration for many of the invitees as pops of pink were seen everywhere on the red carpet. 

Barbie and the color pink are beautiful examples of what “American Independence” can mean for young women. So many girls are shamed out of their feminine interests at a young age as they are belittled and deemed inferior to more masculine interests. For many women, reaching adulthood means feeling free to regain ownership of the things they loved as girls. 

Kate Hudson wore a pink Michael Kors two piece with a pink fur coat, Lily-Rose Depp wore a vintage-looking pink Chanel set, Nicola Peltz looked like royalty in a hot pink Valentino ball gown with lighter pink gloves and Lili Reinhart wore a fantastic pink Christian Siriano gown adorned with the state flower from each of the fifty states. 

Youtube star Jackie Aina dazzled in a pink gown by designer Fe Noel, who explained that “Jackie’s dress is the perfect mashup of glamour meets girl next door.”

Billie Eilish, who partnered with Oscar De La Renta under the condition that they halt the use of fur in all of their work, wore a stunning ball gown inspired by Holiday Barbie. 

Eilish usually opts for less lavish styles, so seeing her in a luxurious dress was surprising for many. She has stated in the past that she wears more baggy clothes to hide her figure after growing up seeing female pop stars hypersexualized and shamed in the media. Eilish used this event to reimagine her own fashion as she steps into adulthood in the limelight. 

Many attendees' looks gave nods to old Hollywood, or Hollywood’s  “Golden Age,” which built the foundations for many of their careers. Some deemed the looks in the category boring and overdone, but old Hollywood is quintessential to understanding key parts of  “American Independence.” 

In the early 1900s, we saw the shift to the five day work week, and many Americans now had the affordances of leisure time. Hollywood arose out of this as Americans could use their time to go to the movies on the weekends. As time went on, the movies became a way of escapism during tumultuous times like the Great Depression and the World Wars. 

This Golden Age of Hollywood allowed Americans to take ownership over their time and imagine a new and more exciting world. This also paved the way for American fashion as we understand it today, as people now had Hollywood starlets to model their fashion sense after. 

So many of these looks were simple, yet beautifully captured the glitz and glam of this era. 

Gigi Hadid in Prada, Barbie Ferriera in Johnathan Simkhai, Anok Yai and Kaia Gerber both in Oscar De La Renta, Yara Shahidi in Dior, and Megan Thee Stallion in Coach, all gave beautifully done takes on Golden Age Hollywood glamour. 

Kendall Jenner, however, was the night’s stand out in this category. She looked captivating and elegant in an enchanting sheer gown embroidered with crystals by Matthew Williams for Givenchy. The look was a modern take on Aubrey Hepburn’s iconic look  in “My Fair Lady” (1964). 

Often referred to as the Super Bowl of fashion, the Met Gala is an important and highly anticipated event each year, playing a huge role in shaping the direction of fashion in coming years and sparking dialogue on the topics each year’s theme brings up. 

This year’s invitees and their designers did a fabulous job at thoughtfully responding to what it means to be American through the lens of costume. The looks are a culmination of thousands of hours in ateliers and offices, planning, conceptualizing, designing and constructing every intricate detail of these looks. 

This year’s Gala was filled with dazzling displays of fashion and creativity, igniting conversation and controversy over competing ideas of how the theme should have been represented. The hundreds of invitees went in many directions, but each one was meaningful to the theme in a unique way as they all represented different aspects of what American Independence means. 

youngkr5@miamioh.edu 


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