In many ways, the fashion is as American as apple pie. Avant-garde designers from Calvin Klein to Tommy Hilfiger to Tom Ford set the tone for the national industry. Flip through the pages of Vogue or scroll down Instagram, and you’ll likely stumble upon one of Klein’s sports bras or Ford’s crisp cut dresses.
Given the country’s collective obsession with sartorial choices, it might not come as a surprise that the theme of Monday night’s Met Gala, an annual event hosted by the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was ” In America: A Fashion Lexicon ”. (A two-part exhibit is set to debut at the Manhattan Museum on Saturday, September 18.)
“Fashion is both a harbinger of cultural change and a record of the forces, beliefs and events that shape our lives,” Met Director Max Hollein said in a statement. “This… exhibition examines how fashion reflects the evolution of notions of identity in America and explores a multitude of perspectives through presentations that speak with powerful immediacy of some of the complexities of history. Looking at the past through this lens, we can consider the aesthetic and cultural impact of fashion on historical aspects of American life.
As Noor Brara and Christine Ajudua write for Artnet news, the gala’s A-list attendees responded to this year’s theme by asking “what defines American fashion and… who becomes American in the first place”.
Some guests took the invite literally, donning American flag-themed dresses or, in the case of inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, channeling the Statue of Liberty. Others have interpreted “American fashion” more broadly: pop star Billie Eilish in a Marilyn Monroe-inspired tulle ball gown, actress Lupita Nyong’o in a Versace denim dress, singer Lil Nas X in a golden bodysuit reminiscent of Star wars droid C-3PO.
Model Iman sported one of the night’s most memorable looks – a gold ruffle skirt with a matching sun-shaped headdress designed by Dolce & Gabbana and Anglo-American designer Harris Reed. As Iman said Vogue on the red carpet, “I thought it was beautiful because it was so hopeful, a ray of light after all the darkness we felt.”
On the other end of the spectrum was Kim Kardashian, who wore an all-black Balenciaga haute couture gown and a matching mask that covered her entire face. As the reality TV star joked on Instagram, “What’s more American than a T-shirt from head to toe ?!”
Across the country, women’s rights are under attack.
I have long used fashion as a change of force 4. As the Met Costume Institute reopens with its inaugural exhibition celebrating American designers, I call ERA certification 4 so that women can be equal one. once and for all. pic.twitter.com/ONbAJq4rOK
– Carolyn B. Maloney (@CarolynBMaloney) September 13, 2021
A number of participants used their attire to share political messages. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez wore a dress emblazoned with the phrase “Tax the Rich”, while actress and model Cara Delevingne wore a top that read “Peg the Patriarchy.” Another congresswoman, Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, donned a long dress which paid tribute to the suffragette movement and the Equal Rights Amendment.
“I think the focus on conscious creativity has been really solidified during the pandemic and the social justice movements,” said Andrew Bolton, curator at the Costume Institute. Vogue‘s Laird Borrelli-Persson earlier this year. “And I’ve been really impressed with the responses of American designers to the social and political climate, especially around issues of body inclusion and gender fluidity, and I just find their work very, very self-reflective.”
As Darnell-Jamal Lisby writes for username, mainstream style in the United States has long been defined by white male designers like Charles James, Halston, Hilfiger and Klein. With this year’s Costume Institute exhibit, Met curators are working to disrupt the male trend in the fashion world.
“In America” will paint a more diverse portrait of American fashion history, featuring designers like Nzinga Knight, a black Muslim woman; Jewish immigrant Jacob Davis, who created the riveted jeans that Levi Strauss patented in 1873; and Dapper Dan, April Walker and Willi Smith, who were instrumental in shaping what is now known as “streetwear”.
“I truly believe that American fashion is experiencing a renaissance,” Bolton said. Vogue in April. “I think young designers in particular are at the forefront of discussions about diversity and inclusion.”
According to the Met, the first part of the show will feature nearly 100 sets for men and women from a range of designers spanning the 1940s to the present day. The second half, titled “In America: An Anthology of Fashion”, will open on May 5, 2022, in the American Wing Period Rooms.
“The interiors present a glimpse of more than 300 years of American domestic life and tell a variety of stories, from the personal to the political, from the stylistic to the cultural and from the aesthetic to the ideological,” the Met statement notes. “… These stagings will explore the role of clothing in shaping American identity and address the intricate and overlapping stories of the pieces.