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Alanna Martine Kilkeary / Her Campus
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MET GALA 2021: A Lexicon of American Fashion

Remembering March 2020, the Met Gala not happening anymore was the least of our concerns. However, for those of us who have become too involved and enamored with the world of luxury and eliteness, it was very much missed. The fact that two consecutive first Mondays in March passed without a carpet down the Met Steps meant that this year was going to be extra special, right? Right. This year I once again procrastinated doing homework to gawk and critique—mostly critique—the fashion choices at fashion’s biggest night of the year. 

The theme of this year’s Met Ball was, ‘American Independence.’ It was co-chaired by Timothée Chalamet, Billie Eilish, Amanda Gorman, and Naomi Osaka. Tom Ford, Adam Mosseri of Instagram, and (of course) Anna Wintour served as the honorary chairs. A true Gen Z/Millenial dream friend group. The talent of the four is certainly insurmountable, but the talents that made them so famous are not particularly intertwined with fashion. While we will never know the extent of their decisions for this year’s Met, we do know that they pulled it off. It is important to note that this year’s Met was advertised as a downscaled event, with ⅓ of the usual guest list cut-off. And it may have felt that way in the first hour of the red carpet event with the absence of the many models that usual grace the Met steps (i.e. Rosie HW, Bella Hadid, Sara Sampaio, Gisele Bündchen, etc.), the regular celebrities (Dakota Johnson, Blake Lively, Zendaya, Lily Collins), as well as designers attending with their many plus ones. However, as the red carpet went on, the late arrivals (many who were first time attendees) flipped the downscaled event to not so downscaled anymore. It is also important to point out that these late arrivals were the ones that the Internet felt should not necessarily be there. Yes, I am talking about the influencers and YouTubers not known for their fashion statements. I felt quite neutral about the rumors of the guest list when it was alleged on the internet; it is well known that the Met will always invite influencers. Remember that the Kardashians were influencers at one point, and even Cameron Dallas has gone to the Met a couple of times thanks to Topshop and Carolina Herrera. So there were bound to be some influencers there this year as well. I just waited for them to show up and let their fashion choices do all the talking. If they turned out to be questionable and out-of-place, I planned to face my displeasure towards Derek Blasberg. Why may he be to blame? I can trace back the incorporation of influencers and fashion to him and “Youtube.com/Fashion.”

Having discussed the much talked-about guest list, let’s break down an important but forgotten aspect of the Met: the exhibition. This year the Costume Institute launched a two-part exhibition. The first one is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art  from September 18th, 2021 to September 5th, 2022. There are around 100 women’s and men’s ensembles featuring a diverse range of designers from the 1940s to the present. Displayed in cases that represent “patches” of a quilt (that’s the inspiration behind A$AP Rocky’s Balenciaga look!), they are organized into 12 sections defining emotional qualities: Nostalgia, Belonging, Delight, Joy, Wonder, Affinity, Confidence, Strength, Desire, Assurance, Comfort, and Consciousness. From Diane von Fürstenberg, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Anna Sui, to Prabal Gurung; this exhibition reflects and explores the past and present of fashion in America. The exhibition begins with a piece from Gurung’s 2020 10th-anniversary collection, which has a red, white, and blue stash asking Who gets to be an American? Gurung hails from Nepal is one of few prominent South Asian designers in America, one that I will always have a soft spot for, a soft spot that rarely needs any defending as his designs have been donned by Michelle Obama, Priyanka Chopra, to Kate Middleton, among many others. The importance of the inclusion of American designers that come from a multitude of backgrounds and have their own interpretation of American fashion was incredible and very much needed. Needless to say, I was excited to see all the looks at this year’s Met and their interpretation of a theme that holds so much history. This year’s Met looks fulfilled that excitement for the most part, with (as always) more left to be desired. 

Instead of breaking down the looks one by one, most of them can be categorized together very easily so that is exactly what I did. 

The Old Hollywood 

The Old Hollywood was most common interpretation of the theme, and it is not one that disappointed too much. My favorite look from this category was actually Kendall Jenner in Givenchy channeling Audrey Hepburn; Kendall has truly improved from the past few years from Off-White years previous to one of the most gorgeous gowns at the Met! Emily Blunt in Miu Miu with the Hedy Lamarr (a girlboss legend) inspired headpiece was another favorite. Talita von Fürstenberg in DVF (obviously) was a great look, and her hair and makeup definitely complimented it. Zoey Deutch in Versace actually giving Cher. Anok Yai in Oscar de la Renta, Joan Smalls in Ralph Lauren, and Imaan Hammam in vintage(!!) Atelier Versace were some of my model favorites of the night. As a side note, for being known as the ~certified classic~ American brand, Ralph Lauren had more misses than hits this year (re: JLo, Kacey Musgraves, and Lily Aldridge.) The ones that did not necessarily work were Yara Shahidi in Christian Dior and Cartier pieces, losing the cape would have created more focus on the belt and the jewelry which worked amazingly with Yara’s makeup and exactly what that look needed. Barbie Ferreira’s Jonathan Simkhai dress was a gorgeous creation, but felt unfinished; the look could have worked perhaps if the beading extended down to her feet or she took off the jewelry. Lastly, Billie Eilish’s Oscar de la Renta that was undoubtedly inspired by Marilyn Monroe felt unsuited. That dress could have been modeled after another muse, or perhaps Ana de Armas should have worn it. 

The Favorties 

Iris van Herpen is currently one of my favorite designers, and by the looks of it, we will be starting to see a lot more of Iris van Herpen on red carpets. However, as it is with all designers, there are some pieces that can be created so beautifully but may not fit with the person wearing it. And that is what seems to have happened with Hailee Steinfeld, Winnie Harlow, and Gabrielle Union. On the other hand, Grimes and Tessa Thompson looked absolutely stunning. Grimes has become somewhat synonymous with the brand, while this is Tessa’s first time wearing IvH, but Tessa’s look for the night was undoubtedly my favorite. From the cowboy boots and cowboy hat, the color scheme for the dress, to her makeup; it all just made sense. Another favorite designer, as discussed, is Prabal Gurung and thankfully there was no shortage of his looks. I have no complaints about any of the five PG looks we saw on the carpet from Gemma Chan, Venus Williams, Diane Kruger, Claire Danes, and Teyana Taylor. They were simply all stunningly created and styled.

The Red, White, and Blue 

This category has the duality of being both for the amount of the red we saw on the carpet for those who took the theme and ran with it. Firstly, Karlie Kloss actually did look Met in the eye this year and her Wes Gordon look for the night was incredible (and that is not just the Wes Gordon’s Caroline Herrera fangirl in me talking). Emily Ratajkowski’s Vera Wang dress was another similarly themed red dress—just as stunning, but no match to her Peter Dundas look from 2019. Eiza González in Versace was a surprisingly great one for the night. But there is another side to this coin, and you guessed it: Addison Rae in the uninspired Tom Ford dress (Sisterhood of the Traveling 2003 Tom Ford for Gucci Dress, if you will). After sparkling in a Thierry Mugler dress the night before at the VMAs, Megan Fox pulled up in a Peter Dundas look that felt uninspired and made no sense with her hairstyle. In an attempt to stick with the theme, there were also a lot of florals present. However, disappointingly none of them worked: Lili Reinhart’s Christian Siriano, Irina Shayk’s Moschino, and Anna Wintour’s OdlR all would have gotten “the eyes” from Meryl Streep. Anna’s daughter, on the other hand, Bee Carrozzini shined in a teal Valentino; as a matter of fact, muted dresses stood out the most for me this year. Like Kate Hudson who looked absolutely stunning in an absolutely stunning Michael Kors two-piece. Honorable mention to new Mom Gigi Hadid, not her personal best look but far from the worst one of the night. Finally, Cara Delevingne’s “Peg the Patriarchy’’ Dior look was expectedly brilliant, in these past years Cara has had the most wonderful looks (hair and makeup included) and this year was no exception. Thank you Ms. Delevingne for never disappointing. 

The Newbies 

All of the chairs were actually newbies for this year, but besides Amanda Gorman none of them particularly shined. Amanda Gorman’s Vera Wang, and paired with the Lelet NY headpiece, it was everything. Lil Nas X’s first year at the MET did not disappoint. In fact, Lil Nas X’s all three Versace looks filled the Lady Gaga shaped hole in my heart. Timothée Chalamet’s Haider Ackerman was such a disappointment from the last time he wore the French designer for the premier of his film, The King. Madison Beer showed up in a prom dress, and Olivia Rodrigo’s Saint Laurent look had a little too much going on, I write with disappointment. All the athletes there, besides Sharpova, did not hit the mark, or goal, or whatever. Emma Raducanu if you are listening, do not partner with Chanel, look at Lili Deep’s two-piece…that may be your future. Lastly, it was Kaia Gerber’s first MET and she has set a precedent for exceptionality in yet another Audrey-inspired gown from Oscar de la Renta. 

The Guys 

Last but not least, this must be a separate category because there are only one or two guys that actually wear anything other than a suit and tie (looking at you very disappointedly Justin Bieber, James Corden and Brooklyn Beckham). However, Troye Sivan in Altu was a great one and an improvement from previous years’ Valentino. Shawn Mendes also showed great improvement from his past two Met Looks in Michael Kors, or perhaps I kept getting distracted by the lack of his shirt. Pete Davidson’s Thom Browne was a surprisingly great look as well. Jack Harlow (502 shoutout) was a good one, especially as it was with the other quintessential American brand, Tommy Hilfiger. Elliot Page, while in a suit and tie, definitely deviated from boredom with an assist from the Balenciaga shoes and meaningful accessories.

Another MET has come and gone, cemented in history as equal parts wonderful and disappointing. This Met’s disappointments lie in the fact its supposedly “smaller, intimate” guest list did not feel smaller, or intimate; instead, it was riddled with people that have no connections to fashion. The wondrous parts of this Met were the incredible theme and the corresponding exhibition. While the outfits were hit-or-miss, there were some truly amazing creations on the carpet. No matter how much any of us complain about the uninspired and unremarkable creations, we will all most definitely be tuning in next year. See you then, Dame Anna Wintour.

Kavya Thaker

Kenyon '25

Kavya is a first-year at Kenyon College from Southern Indiana. She will hopefully be Neuroscience major with a concentration in Public Policy.
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