Tastes change. And how. And nothing changes more dramatically than taste in fashion — and the fashionable. Not so long ago, polite society dictated the rules to which others aspired. Today, we discover, it’s “influencers” TikTokers and YouTubers who hold the keys to the kingdom. Suffice to say, today’s Met Gala is not the playground of Diana Vreeland, Pat Buckley and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
The annual bash was founded in 1948 to support what’s now the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Vreeland served for a time as consultant to the event after being tossed out as editor in chief at Vogue. Today, longtime Vogue boss Anna Wintour presides over the affair with her journalist’s eye for fashion and cultural trends.
Thus, the theme this year was “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” and I for one was lost for words at times. Trying to describe the costumes on display Monday night would exhaust my store of adjectives. Circusy will have to do. I half expected to hear the bugle call of a horse race with each star’s entrance. I would hardly have been surprised to see Beetlejuice spring from beneath one of several skirts that were large enough to house a family of hobbits.
Instead, we were treated to a parade of political demonstrators whose eccentric garb sometimes garbled the message. If you haven’t heard, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wore an off-the-shoulder white gown with a political message painted in large, blood-red letters across her backside: “Tax the Rich.”
How very outré! In runway photos, the 31-year-old Capitol superstar peeked demurely over one shoulder, surely aware that her appearance at such a high-end event would drive her opponents crazy and her supporters wild with delight.
What’s a roughly $300,000-per-table dinner party without a political sign slamming the rich?
Several other political statements arrived in human form. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) wore a dress with “Equal Rights for Women” sashes. Dan Levy of “Schitt’s Creek” fame showed up looking like a butterfly wearing a map to celebrate “queer love and queer visibility.”
And YouTube star and transgender beauty guru Nikkie de Jager (she has more than 13 million subscribers) was a vision in teal chiffon with flowers in her hair, flowers everywhere. Her dress was a tribute, she said, to Marsha P. Johnson, a gay liberation activist and drag queen who featured prominently in the 1969 Stonewall uprising.
Everybody’s got a cause these days, including at least one former attendee who regretted for political reasons. Rapper Nicki Minaj, objecting to the gala’s requirement that everyone be vaccinated, tweeted: “They want you to get vaccinated for the Met. If I get vaccinated it won’t for the Met. It’ll be once I feel I’ve done enough research. I’m working on that now.”
Far be it for me to interfere with another’s quest for knowledge, but quite a few highly regarded scientists and medical experts have resolved this issue to the satisfaction of most people. Pity unvaccinated children who can’t protect themselves from their parents and other influencers.
Inadvertently, perhaps, Minaj reminds us of the seriousness of our times. Frivolity and frills surely have their place, and sometimes we need a break from the daily assault of bad news. But this year’s gala seemed conspicuously tone-deaf, coming just two days after the 20th anniversary of 9/11 (did no one check the calendar?) and amid the renewed march of a strengthened pandemic.
If one must go political, at least try to think beyond oneself. What would I have worn? I can’t swear I’m this brave, but I’d like to think I’d have worn a burqa in solidarity with the women of Afghanistan, as well as the millions of other women around the world who are routinely denied basic human rights by primitive-minded, religion-fueled monsters masquerading as heroes.
Imagine what Wintour could have done with a theme like that. To make things festive, designers could have enhanced the burqa to illustrate the beauty of the women lost and withering beneath the folds of their captivity. Maybe at an appointed hour, everyone could remove the burqa to reveal a creation worthy of the Met’s costume collection and get on with the dance.
Such a night would be less of a show, to be sure, but it would pack a powerful wallop — for all the world to see.