Looking Back: the Met Gala, Covid, and Black Lives Matter

By Amina Cassis, class of ’23

The Met Gala 2021, “fashion’s biggest night out,” was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13th. The museum usually holds this fundraising event in May, but with Covid-19  looming last spring, they decided to delay the event. The guest list included celebrities, fashion icons, and new designers who agreed to the vaccine mandate. Some of the impressive star-studded guests strolling down the red carpet were Rihanna, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Simone Biles. The co-chairs of the 2021 Met Gala included Billie Eilish, Timothée Chalamet, Naomi Osaka, and Amanda Gorman. The Costume Institute’s theme for Part One of the exhibit is “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” and the goal was to establish a modern vocabulary of American fashion based on its expressive qualities. Part Two will open on May 5, 2022 with the theme “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.”

Photograph: Ringer Illustration.

The curated fashion displays for this year’s event were organized around a patchwork quilt, begun in 1856, and housed in the Met’s American Wing. This quilt served as a metaphor for the United States and its varied cultural identities. The museum invited guests to present themselves in original fashion which would reflect this metaphor. It is not surprising that several guests used fashion to express political statements. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) wore a white gown with the message, “Tax the Rich,” in bold, red lettering emblazoned across her back. Aurora James designed the gown and is also the founder of the 15% Pledge, which asks major retailers to devote at least 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses in order to achieve economic justice. Sephora, West Elm, and Vogue have agreed to partake in this pledge. On the red carpet, Congresswomen Ocasio-Cortez happily reported that as of present, consumers had directed  $10 billion dollars towards Black businesses. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney wore a gown in the suffragette colors of green, white, and violet with a train printed with the words, “Equal Rights for Women.” She carried a clutch bearing the letters ERA, reflecting the equal rights amendment.

AOC before the Met Gala / Photograph: Jun Lu. 

Cara Delevigne wore a shirt with the message “Peg the Patriarchy” to express her desire for women’s empowerment and gender equality. Billie Eilish wore an Oscar de la Renta gown, reminiscent of the glamour of Marilyn Monroe, on the stipulation that the fashion house terminate all fur sales. Megan Rapinoe, the soccer olympian, wore a bright red pantsuit and a royal blue shirt with silver stars. Her bag read “In Gay We Trust.” Another new face brought Indigenous representation at her first Met Gala invitation. Quannah Chasinghorse is a 19 year-old model of Han Gwich’in and Oglala Lakota ancestry that recently took the modeling industry by storm after her first New York Fashion Week. Chasinghorse, an Alaskan activist, proudly reclaimed her culture and represented her Indigenous pride wearing a dress designed by Peter Dundas, who made sure that her heritage was accurately captured. 

Quannah Chasinghorse at the Met Gala / Photograph: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP.

Police arresting a Black woman at the “Defund the Police” protest on September 13th Photograph: The Sun/ AFP.

Amid all the glitz and glamour inside the Met, a far greater political drama was occurring outside its steps. A Black Lives Matter protest was in full swing; reporters described it as an “autonomous group of NYC abolitionists who believe that policing does not protect and serve communities.” The protesters were incensed that state funds allocated $11 billion in resources to the NYPD and that Mayor Bill de Blasio attended the gala. De Blasio has enabled abuse from the NYPD, especially with how he handled the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the police. They called for police accountability and that this money should go to Black and brown communities in need of support. 

Image depicts protesters kneeling and raising their fists for Black Lives Matter / Photograph: Clay Banks on Unsplash.

The aftermath of the George Floyd protests sparked hope for a long awaited progressive change in the justice system and in the police force nationwide, but many politicians have already disregarded these calls for action. The media also gave minimal coverage to the fact that many were tackled, zip-tied, and arrested during these protests. Protestors should have the right to express their First Amendment rights without being brutalized by police officers, which is, ironically, the very system they are trying to protest against. Some protesters felt that resuming the Gala did not indicate a move to normalcy, but rather, a willingness to overlook inequality. For them, the Gala was not a celebration; it merely represented a party for the privileged who were all too willing to ignore the call for social justice right outside. Many influential people and politicians were able to show their form of protest for other issues in America. However, there needs to be an actual initiative for these problems without the performative flair, and that starts with giving adequate attention and support for these important causes.

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