American Independence, Baby!


Pictured are Lil Nas X (left), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (center), and Emma Chamberlain (right). Images courtesy of Getty Images.

Sadie Dallas, Former Deputy Arts & Culture Editor

Since 1948, the Met Gala has been a glamorous and sometimes outlandish fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The themed event boasts celebrity co-chairs each year, who host alongside Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. 

Famously held on the first Monday in May, the 2020 ball was rescheduled to this September due to COVID-19, and will be a two-part event. If all goes according to plan, “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” is set to be an addition to September 13th’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.” Past Met Gala themes include “The Glory of Russian Costume and Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” Considered one of the most exclusive tickets in town, attendees work with designers to create their own interpretation of the theme. The dress code on this year’s invitation was “American Independence.” But what does that even mean? 

The majority of outfits were less red, white, blue, or star-spangled, and more a representation of what America means to each individual. For E! host Naz Perez, that meant paying homage to her immigrant parents in a gown by Dominican designer Oscar De La Renta. A Quiet Place actress Emily Blunt went full Ziegfeld Girl with a Hedy Lamarr-inspired look reminiscent of Hollywood’s golden age. Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S history and co-host of this year’s gala, wore a royal blue Vera Wang dress and a glittering laurel headpiece. She also carried a matching book-shaped clutch with the words, “Give us your tired” inscribed on it, a reference to “The New Colossus,” the poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. 

Despite the efforts of attendees, reactions to the gala’s theme were…mixed to say the least. Men invited to the gala have infamously not “understood the assignment,” showing up in plain black suits while everyone else is dressed like they’re going to the world’s fanciest costume party (which they are). This year, it seems that male celebrities were particularly inspired, or that internet bullying paid off because celebs like ASAP Rocky, Lil Nas X, and Dan Levy really stepped it up. “In America” also generated discourse about how the country’s history should be approached, and if this is an appropriate way to do it. Certain clothing styles may call to mind nastier parts of America’s past, parts that shouldn’t be trivialized by being worn as part of a costume. For example, an ode to Scarlet O’ Hara’s famous Gone With the Wind dresses would be considered out-of-touch and problematic, despite the Civil War and 1930s Hollywood being milestones in U.S history. 

The gala had its share of flat-out controversy, too. And really, what’s more American than that? U.S Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a white dress with the words “Tax the Rich” spelled out in bright red lettering, a move that critics called hypocritical considering that a ticket to the ball costs $35,000. Others rushed to her defense and pointed out that NYC officials are invited to the event for free. The look was bound to ruffle some feathers, as the guest list contains some of the wealthiest names in the biz, including Canadian singer Grimes, who was labeled a “class traitor” by the internet for her relationship with billionaire CEO Elon Musk. 

The worthiness of influencers who attended the event was also questioned. Most notably, Youtuber Emma Chamberlain and Tiktoker Addison Rae were both criticized for their invite to the gala, as fans of the event felt that they didn’t match the talent of other artists who are annual invitees. The guest list is approved by Anna Wintour herself, and this is not the first time her choice of celebrity has raised eyebrows. 

In 2014, Wintour stirred things up by putting Kimye (Kim Kardashian and Kanye West) on Vogue’s April cover. She said she did this because they were part of “the conversation of the day,” which appears to be her same rationale for the gala guest list. After all, The Met is all about culture, and like it or not, it’s impossible to talk about today’s culture without including social media. Yes, it might be weird to think that Donatella Versace and Dixie D’Amelio were in the same room together, but times are a-changin’ and Ms. Wintour intends to keep up. To deny someone culturally relevant the right to attend the party of the year on the basis of being “untalented” is simply not in style.