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Why this year’s MET Gala was the most progressive yet

The return of the most experimental fashion event of the year gave us more than just outfits to talk about.

Let’s face it, the world is changing at a rapid pace. So much so that even the biggest event in fashion is not exempt from displays of social and political activism.

For those who were generally confused about this year’s Met Gala styles (it’s been perceived as one of the least aesthetically cohesive red carpets yet), the theme was titled In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.

Offering little by way of explanation, it’s worth explaining that guests were encouraged to embody what they felt it means to be alive in modern America through fashion.

The 2021 Met Gala was distinct from previous occasions in many ways, having been postponed last year due to the pandemic. Attendees were required to be fully vaccinated to enter, the dinner menus were entirely vegan, and the event was livestreamed for the first time ever.

Aside from these changes, it will go down in history as one of the most politically vocal, ethnically diverse, and inclusive Met Gala’s we’ve ever seen. Let’s explore the red-carpet moments that represented social change the most, shall we?

Sustainability in full force

Styles by Dutch designer Iris van Herpen made multiple appearances on the carpet this year, worn by Gabrielle Union, Hailee Steinfeld, Tessa Thompson, and Grimes.

Along with her reputation for creating eye-catching, multi-dimensional dresses, Iris has been a long-term environmental advocate in the fashion industry, making entire runway collections from upcycled marine plastics.

She has continued to collaborate with architects and scientists over the past decade, 3D printing pieces for her gowns and working to develop new, eco-friendly materials to work with.

Stunning and elegant, Iris’ intricate designs embody the future of high fashion as it is pushed towards becoming less wasteful and more resourceful.

Animal rights even found a campaigner this year, as Billie Eillish negotiated her way into a peachy, Cinderella-esque ball gown by Oscar de la Renta.

Paying homage to Old Hollywood’s Marilyn Monroe, the teen pop idol agreed to wear the dress on the condition that the designer would discontinue the use of animal fur in his designs.

Although Oscar de la Renta no longer uses fur on his runways, he will terminate the sale of them in stores as per Billie’s request – even though they make a ‘substantial contribution’ to the brand’s profits. Now that’s one way to use star power.

Bold political statements

As Billie got busy changing fashion designer’s policies, others decided to make more straightforward statements by wearing them.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez donned a white outfit by Black designer Aurora James, with ‘Tax the Rich’ written in red on the back. Critics questioned her choice to send the message at an event for which tickets cost almost the price of a college semester, while in a room full of millionaires.

She defended herself on Twitter, saying: ‘New York elected officials are routinely invited to and attend the Met due to our responsibilities in overseeing and supporting the city’s cultural institutions for the public. I was one of several in attendance in this evening.’

Speaking about the gown’s design inspiration, Aurora sent a humbling reminder: ‘we can never get too comfortable in our seats at the table once they’ve been given.’

On gender equality matters, two guests had starkly different ways of expressing their support for the movement.

US Congresswoman Carolyn B. Mahoney sent a possible nod to what’s happening with abortion laws in Texas, wearing a banner-like gown that displayed, ‘Rights for Women’ on its cascading ribbons. The purple, yellow, and green colours allude to the colours used during the Suffragette Movement.

Meanwhile, Cara Delevingne wore a more in-your-face version of this sentiment, donning a white body armour vest with the inscription ‘PEG THE PATRIARCHY’ on its front. She said, ‘it’s about women empowerment, gender equality – it’s a bit like “stick it to the man”’.

The model encouraged a quick Google of the meaning should anyone need further explanation.

A big moment for Black designers

Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Met Gala stated that this year’s event ‘very much came out of the Black Lives Matter movement’ and welcomed the presence of designers who often get overlooked.

Despite being famous for Formula 1 wins, Lewis Hamilton is no stranger to fashion, having attended the Met Gala since 2015. This year, he bought an entire table at the event and asked a group of young Black designers to join him to elevate their platform. Read more on this here.

Black designers also have had a huge impact on wardrobes this year, dressing several celebrities and socialites, such as Keke Palmer in Sergio Hudson, Ilana Glazer in Jason Rembert, and Evan Chen and Jordan Alexander in Christopher John Rogers.

Embracing body inclusivity and gender fluidity

Twitter users are revelling in the presence of body positive celebrities at this year’s event, in the absence of the as-per-usual sculpted physiques of Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner.

Barbie Ferreira, who started out as a plus-size Instagram model but gained notoriety for her role as a badass, curvy teenager in HBO’s Euphoria, rocked the red carpet in a strapless bedazzled dress.

Nikki de Jager, known more widely as Nikkie Tutorials, was also in attendence. The makeup tutorial guru came out as transgender in the last year – something unbeknownst to her gigantic following for years. She was adorned in a flower headress and aqua blue dress. The Youtube star has been vocal about attending events as a proud member of the plus size community.

Making three outfit changes, Lil Nas X wowed spectators with an embroidered gown, gold metal body armour, and formfitting embellished jumpsuit. The singer solidified himself as a Pride icon for being unapologetic about his sexuality and has described the multi-wardrobe choice as a representation of ‘coming out of his shell’ over the last year.

Joining him in breaking traditional gender stereotypes in fashion is Troye Sivan in figure hugging black dress, and rather unpredictably Pete Davidson, draped in a self-described ‘sexy nun’ outfit.

Using fashion as a platform

The theme of this year’s Met Gala provided an opportunity for attendees to make a real statement about the communities and beliefs they identify with while participating in modern American society.

Now, more than ever, individual expression in the West is being embraced rather than ridiculed. Where celebrities used to veer away from political statements, some appear to be using high-profile events as a chance to vocalise their support for social change.

Whether or not you think the Met Gala is the right time or place to do this, curators of the event believe this is only the beginning.

‘I really do believe that American fashion is undergoing a renaissance,’ remarked Andrew Bolton. ‘I think young designers in particular are at the vanguard of discussions about diversity and inclusion, as well as sustainability and transparency.’



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