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Met Gala: What Does It Actually Represent?

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As someone who attended one semester of fashion school last year and an avid Instagram user, my feed has been filled with photos of people who attended this year’s Met Gala Event. But it got me thinking that I didn’t actually know anything about this star-studded event and the purpose it serves in the fashion world. So after researching everything about this high-fashion event, this is what I learned.

The Met

Before we jump into what the Met Gala is, we should know what the Met represents. Not to be confused with the verb ‘met’, the Met is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the city of New York.

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The Met Building
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Image Source- The Met

Founded in 1870, the Met as a museum displays art and its journey through the years. Their mission statement reads:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art collects, studies, conserves, and presents significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas.

The Costume Institute 

The Met has many exhibits and events, one of them being the Costume Institute. The costume institute showcases fashionable pieces and accessories donned by men, women and children from the fifteenth century to date. Previously known as the Museum of Costume Art and founded in 1937, the Costume Institute was independently owned and it wasn’t till 1946 that it merged with the Met. 

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The Costume Institute’s primary source of funding comes from its annual benefit- i.e., the MET Gala.

The exhibit for 'Heavenly Bodies' at the Costume Institute after the 2018 Met Gala theme
The exhibit for ‘Heavenly Bodies’ at the Costume Institute after the 2018 Met Gala theme: Image Source- LA Times

The gala is normally held in May and celebrates the opening night of their spring exhibition. Due to the pandemic, the event was cancelled last year and pushed to September for 2021. For all the fashion enthusiasts, September is also referred to as “fashion month”. Each week of the month is dedicated to the fashion week of one city known for high-fashion- like London, Milan, New York and Paris (which are the main ones).

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Proposed by Eleanor Lambert, the Gala was intended to be the party of the year with a midnight supper. The gala today is run under the leadership of the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Anna Wintour. In fact, the wing that houses the Costume Institute is named the ‘Anna Wintour Costume Centre’.

The dress theme that the guests have to follow is actually the annual theme of the exhibition at the Costume Institute itself. And if there is anything I have noticed, it is that the guests really get into the theme. If anyone wants proof of how serious it gets, they need only look at Kim Kardashian’s Met outfit this year.

How does the Met Gala make any money?

The Benefit dubs itself as “one of the most successful and visible charity events”. The red carpet walk is only a part of the event. The main is the Gala event on the inside which even has performances. While a ticket in 1948 would cost you only $50, an entry ticket today can debit you $35,000. And even if you can afford a seat, you might not be let in.

The "supper" portion of the Met Gala
The “supper” portion of the Met Gala: Image Source- Architectural Digest

Tables (like the supper tables) are bought by fashion houses and other companies. Fashion houses then have celebrities don their designer wear and attend the event. According to the Cut, the Met Gala in the years 2018 and 2019 raised over $13 million. 

The Gala is a big deal for the fashion world. It allows them a top-notch place for publicity.

Since it usually takes place in May, it allows the designer to showcase their work and their play on the theme. In its bizarre way (since people don’t actually wear gowns or tuxedos on daily basis), it sets the tone for what people can expect in their coming lines.

The Met Gala in 2021

This year, Gala’s broad theme was “American Independence”. So, the guests dressed accordingly. Since the theme was loose and open to creativity, there were some fascinating interpretations. 

The exhibit will also be based on the same theme but in two parts. The first exhibit is “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” which opens on September 18 for public viewing. The second part, “In America: An Anthology of Fashion”, begins on May 5, 2022. Both exhibits will stay up till September 5, 2022. 

The 2021 theme was carefully chosen and was meant to represent what diverse cultures and identities had to offer through the eye of American Fashion. Max Hollein, the Marina Kellen French Director of the Met, had this to say about it: 

In looking at the past through this lens, we can consider the aesthetic and cultural impact of fashion on historical aspects of American life. 

In America: A Lexicon of Fashion at the Costume Institute
In America: A Lexicon of Fashion at the Costume Institute- Image Source: W Magazine

Andrew Bolton, the in-charge of Wendy Yu Curator of the Costume Institute shared his views on how fashion reflects our social reality with the Vogue:

American designers are at the forefront of conversations around diversity, inclusivity, sustainability, gender fluidity, and body positivity. The framework of the show enables us to focus on the younger designers who are engaging thoughtfully and deeply with those ideas.

Social media continues to buzz with popular opinions and memes about the outfits seen in the Gala this year. With all that said and done, the Met Gala could be a good starting point for us to revisit the connections between the fashion world and our social reality.

Read more editorials here.

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