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The Met Gala: A Paradigm of Fashion and Elitism

This year’s Met Gala — which was rescheduled from May due to COVID-19 — occurred on Monday, September 13 and left most viewers in either a state of pleasant surprise or complete disappointment.

Some background for those that aren’t into fashion and parasocial relationships — the Met Gala is an annual fundraising gala for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in the one and only New York City. Every year, Anna Wintour invites the best of the best to give their all on “fashion’s biggest night out” — with a singular ticket costing $35k — and everyday people like me watching the live streams from the comfort of our homes. Thus, with 2021’s theme being “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” the audience was particularly curious as to how people would stick to the theme while also making a statement to the audience.

Celebrities did their best to represent what America looked like to them including Billie Eilish’s homage to Marilyn Monroe, both Yara Shahidi and Anok Yai’s tributes to Josephine Baker, Kendall Jenner channeling Audrey Hepburn, Lili Reinhart, and her dress featuring the 50 states’ flowers, Barbie Ferreira’s take on the 20s, and Iman’s goddess look. 

These looks seemed to be on par with the theme, but while these A-listers were hoping to hit the mark with their outfits, a real representation of America was manifesting outside in the form of protest. 

News reporters and New York residents were spreading images and videos of demonstrators at a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest gathering outside the Met as the gala was going on. This means that each of these stars and public figures waltzed right by the protest to enter this esteemed event, perhaps paying no mind to the fight for equity outside. As the elite ate their smoked yuzu soy and rice porcini arancini, protestors were being targeted and arrested right outside their festivities, and little to none of these celebrities made any noise in regards to this. Even to this day, talks about the 2021 Met Gala revolve around the looks and food instead of the brutality outside; it was fitting that the protest was for defunding the police and the NYPD responded by detaining protesters to protect the people inside the Met.

It’s astounding, really, how this year’s theme was the one that attendees stayed true to. No, not because of their looks, but because the event embodied the American mindset of parading wealth and esteem while turning a blind eye to the inequalities and discrepancies of the world. We can critique the gala looks all we want, but the audience itself feeds into the bubble of ignorance that surrounds the Met Gala, and 2021 was the year that it was popped by many. It’s time to reevaluate where the middle class stands in the eyes of the elite and if we’re truly benefiting from these prestigious events like the Met Gala because the actions — or lack of — from the guests say otherwise.

Personally, it seems that this year was an eye-opening experience for many audience members. Not only did the 2021 Met Gala spur a plethora of mixed reviews and criticism, but it gave everyday people a lens into the extreme disconnect elite events like this have with the world. For example, US Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed up at the Met Gala wearing a gown that read, “TAX THE RICH,” steering away from the more radical, popularized phrase “Eat the Rich.” While AOC modeled a message that the left has been honing in on, the scene outside the Met on Monday highlighted the question of if AOC’s performance was able to ignite anything in the elite at the event — because the protestors outside didn’t.

With 2020 and 2021 marking a change in times of the fight for equality, AOC’s “Tax the Rich” and Cara Delevingne’s “Peg the Patriarchy” displays at the Met Gala dilute the struggle and instead make ‘activism’ fashionable. It does nothing for the protestors arrested outside the Met and falls short of doing anything at all.

In the wake of the 2021 gala and protests, I ask, does this mean the Met Gala is losing its highly renowned prestige and its hold on American society? Or are everyday people finally realizing that the elite are so disconnected from us they cannot see the movements going on right in front of their eyes?

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All the way from St. Petersburg, Florida, Isabella is currently a sophomore at Boston University majoring in Psychology and minoring in Public Policy Analysis. Her hobbies include coffee dates, traveling, concerts, and fashion, and you can usually find her running late to class with a Starbucks drink in her hand!
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