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The long-awaited 2021 Met Gala finally happened this past Monday. The Gala, which serves as a fundraiser for The Met Costume Institute, is an ultra-exclusive event for anyone the host, Anna Wintour, deems worthy.

Last year, the event was cancelled in the midst of Covid-19, and even had to be postponed this year. Its comeback was expected to be flashier and more exciting than ever, but left many spectators disappointed. The theme, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” made many question what American fashion’s legacy really is. 

To me, the most important part of a good Met Gala is a good theme. “Camp” in 2019 and “Heavenly Bodies” from 2018 delivered iconic looks- the pictures still circulate my Twitter feed. Rihanna in a silver priest look and the Jenner sisters covered in purple and orange feathers are still fresh in my mind. A strong, clear theme can leave a lasting impression and is essential to the gala’s success.

The Costume Institute opted for a double feature theme this year and next year, starting with In America: A Lexicon of Fashion. According to Vogue, this theme is meant to celebrate and reflect on fashion in America. Recently, we’ve seen sustainability, body positivity, and social justice play important roles in American designers’ work. In the past, around the 1940’s, sportswear took over the nation, making clothing more casual and functional. Americans have unique senses of style, as diverse as the country itself, and a rich clothing history- it shouldn’t be hard for designers to create meaningful, memorable looks. 

My favorite outfits from the Met Gala this year are the ones that carried meaning behind them. So many groups have faced adversity, discrimination, and hardship in America, and I think it was important for guests to acknowledge that. For example, Gemma Chan and designer Prabal Gurung paid homage to Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American Hollywood star, while Nikkie de Jager honored trans activist Marsha P Johnson in a beautiful floral look. Model and activist Quannah Chasinghorse wore an incredible gown and jewelry by Peter Dundas, inspired by indigenous clothing and art. All three of these looks were stunning on their own, while their messages made statements about America’s past and present. 

I also loved Old Hollywood glam inspired looks. Billie Ellish stunned in a very Marilyn Monroe-esque Oscar de la Renta gown, complete with a blonde bob and glam makeup. Kendall Jenner’s crystal covered gown was a modern, sleek take on Audrey Hepburn’s My Fair Lady dress. Old Hollywood made such a mark on American culture and, of course, American fashion, so I love that it was so prevalent Monday night. 

Despite the sea of men in plain boring black tuxes, some guys stood out. My personal favorite suit, by Bode, was worn by Tyler Mitchell. America’s pastime was heavily prevalent in this red suit, which read “Bode” in a navy baseball-looking font. I know going all out with a huge, crazy outfit isn’t everyone’s scene, so I loved Bode and Mitchell’s creation. I also really enjoyed Maluma’s western-inspired red leather Versace look, as western wear is such a major part of American fashion.

Jeremy Pope’s all white ensemble was stunning on its own, but carried a deep meaning. His cotton clothing honored the work and suffering of enslaved people, while showcasing strength and elegance. He wrote on Instagram that “they…harvested a kind of excellence that would outlive them for centuries. So that we could one day stand up, stretch toward the sun, and tell their story”. His look, carrying so much weight and significance, was by far one of my favorites of the evening. 

While some guests definitely delivered great American looks, so many fell short. Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello’s Michael Kors looks seemed directionless and unpolished, while Justin and Hailey Bieber’s looks were overwhelmingly plain. Jennifer Lopez’s Ralph Laruen look, while it at least followed the theme, gave safari adventure costume vibes. With a theme as broad as “America,” guests were bound to dress all over the place. Luckily, next year’s theme, In America: An Anthology of Fashion, gives them a second chance. 

Some viewed this year’s Met Gala as the worst we’ve seen. I’d like to believe that the untraditional date (usually the gala takes place in May) coupled with the business of fashion week just days before, caused the underwhelming red carpet. Also, the contrast between camp and America may have been too large for people, given the last gala was so over-the-top and outrageous.

I expected more political messages, but AOC’s and Cara Delivinge’s words fell short, especially as a Black Lives Matter protesters were arrested just outside of The Met at the same time. All in all, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion seemed to lack the usual awe and creativity the Met Gala tends to deliver. A handful of looks were well crafted and had meaningful inspiration, but so many were confusing and chaotic.

Next year, designers will have to work harder to create unique, new takes on the American theme. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

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