The 2021 Met Gala brought with it the usual over-the-top pomp and circumstance – there were, of course, famous people and expensive gowns – but according to the feedback on social media, it didn’t pack the same punch as it had in the years before. The theme was "In America: A Lexicon of Fashion," and it was vague enough that it left room for celebrities to wear what they wanted, stick to their European brand contracts, and loosely interpret the concept. One outfit, however, appeared to at least understand the theme and represent a uniquely American concept. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attended the event wearing a white Brother Vellies dress that read “Tax the Rich” in red down the back. I imagine after being invited into a space full of rich people, Ocasio-Cortez was aiming her thoughts toward them. It was a choice, sure, and one that many felt strongly about, both positively and negatively. My point, however, is not to talk about whether I liked the dress, but to address a notable part of this moment that spoke to something important about the evening itself. When she posted her gown on social media, the congresswoman wrote a note to her detractors that said simply, “the medium is the message.”
Ocasio-Cortez left no room for interpretation, no design spectacle to read into — just words. She wasn’t the only one, either. Other attendees pulled a similar stunt with messages on their outfits. Cara Delevingne told us to “Peg the Patriarchy,” Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Versha Sharma wanted us to “Kill the Filibuster,” Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney wore a sash that said “Equal Rights for Women,” and Megan Rapinoe carried an “In Gay We Trust” clutch. Pretty straight forward messaging, and whether you agree or not, the points were made. This use of clothing as a literal sign for protest and advocacy is one that has proven successful by everyone from the former first lady (we all remember “I Really Don’t Care Do U?”), to celebrities on the red carpet (note the #TimesUp red carpet in 2018). Success in these instances is not a metric that measures whether the outfit's message was good or bad, merely that it got out.
Last night, though, the messages that came through the clearest were the ones that weren’t spelled out for us. 19-year-old Han Gwich'in and Oglala Lakota model and climate activist Quannah Chasinghorse wore stunning turquoise jewelry and a gold DundasXRevolve dress. She was the only indigenous representation at the event.
Singer Halsey responded to the dozens of fans on Twitter asking why they didn’t attend by reminding everyone that they had recently given birth. “There’s nothing more “American fashion” than moms having to go back to work after just giving birth lol,” they wrote.
Outside of the venue, police arrested Black Lives Matter activists, as they protested.
In many ways, the 2021 Met Gala was the perfect mirror of "In America." America is the messaging on those dresses and accessories, but it's also the continued erasure of Native American designers within the cultural celebrations of fashion in the USA. It's the idea that while signs of protest were being photographed on a carpet, others were being torn out of hands by police. It's the fact that COVID-19 has impacted millions in this country, and there was no reverence for that in the outfits.
I don't know if it was the "very diverse, very sustainable, very inclusive" moment Anna Wintour promised in her red carpet interview, but it certainly was America.