For the pop culture savvy, the Met Gala is one of the most publicized parties in America. Thousands eagerly cycle through their Twitter timelines and Instagram feeds as celebrities’ extravagant red carpet looks make their rounds through social media. However, this year’s gala was memorable for all the wrong reasons: it highlighted the growing dissonance between America’s elite and the rest of the general population.
The event itself, which is a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, has been referred to as “the party of the year” and “the Oscars of the East Coast.” Designers, models, and other Hollywood elite grace the red carpet with over-the-top looks to celebrate the opening of the Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibit. According to the Met’s website, this year’s exhibit, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” is a “two-part exploration of fashion in the United States in the Anna Wintour Costume Center. It establishes a modern vocabulary of American fashion based on its expressive qualities.”
The gala is normally held on the first Monday of May, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s event. This year, organizers enforced COVID-19 protocols such as a smaller guest list and requiring all attendees to provide proof of full vaccination and remain masked indoors unless eating or drinking.
Most pictures from the event showed celebrities sans masks, but gala organizers justified this by saying that the attendees were posing outside on the steps of the famed Met Museum. Historically, photography from inside the event had been banned, as had social media for a brief period of time. However, Anna Wintour, the head of the event, changed the ban to only limiting selfies. Essentially, once the celebrities make their way inside, the party is over for the general public.
Many red carpet looks were the highlight of the gala. Gemma Chan partnered with Nepalese-American designer Prabal Gurung to put together a strapless, black and silver sequin mini-dress with a ruffled lime train, a nod to Anna May Wong. In an Instagram caption, Chan wrote that “this year we wanted to give a nod to and pay tribute” to a person considered “the first Chinese-American film star of Hollywood’s golden era.”
Lupita Nyong’o dazzled in a Versace navy and denim dress. Her makeup artist, Nick Barose, spoke to Vogue and said, “I was so inspired by the supermodels of the ’90s and Versace, so it’s something that’s second nature to me. But we didn’t want to do anything too on the nose. It’s a different spin.”
CL, a South Korean singer, songwriter, and rapper, also appeared in a denim gown designed by Alexander Wang. The gown was tied with a traditional Korean Hanbok knot in the front, and CL’s hair was inspired by a traditional Korean headpiece worn by queens.
Other celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Kim Petras embraced the Wild West and its pinnacles of American fashion. Lopez rocked a Ralph Lauren gown with a wide-brimmed hat, faux fur cape, and leather belt. Petras used her Met Gala debut to make a case for horse girls. She walked the red carpet in a Collina Strada dress which featured a 3D horse head bustier.
Model and activist Quannah Chasinghorse turned heads with a tribute to her Indigineous American culture. She wore a Navajo turquoise necklace and silver jewelry while also showcasing her traditional tattoos. In an interview with Vogue, the 19-year-old model said, “Reclaiming our culture is key—we need to show the world that we are still here, and that the land that everyone occupies is stolen Native land.”
While the event’s looks should be acknowledged and celebrated, the elitism of the gala cannot not be ignored. Steps away from the event, a racial and social justice protest took place and resulted in some protesters being arrested by the New York Police Department (NYPD).
A flyer from the protest referred to the group, called #FireThemAll on Twitter, as an “autonomous group of NYC abolitionists who believe that policing does not protect and serve communities.” The protesters’ objective was to interrogate why the NYPD is being allotted $11 billion in resources rather than distributed to Black and brown communities.
In a video on Twitter, a protester says, “Black and brown people are on the brink of houselessness. We cannot go back to normal. Where was your rage last year?” The protester, later identified as Ella, was one of the at least nine people who were arrested. Ella continued by saying, “We demand free housing, we demand all political prisoners to be freed, we demand justice for our people.”
Attendees such as “Pose” actress Indya Moore expressed regret over attending the event. On Instagram Moore wrote, “Being at the Met this year was cognitive dissonance. I entered and left feeling confused. But before that I felt clear. Grounded. People were protesting and arrested in the name of what so many of us who attended, care deeply about.”
Additionally, hosts like Naomi Osaka and Amanda Gorman, two advocates for social equality, were selected by Vogue to anchor the event for their fashion contributions rather than their professional work. Vogue touted both hosts as women who made “their mark in fashion” through the embrace of their individual styles.
This year’s Met Gala perfectly encapsulated the United States, where the elite were rubbing elbows and partaking in glitz and glamor, while the country’s middle class was being punished steps away in asking for a better and more equitable life.