The Met Gala: Once-Glittering, Now Obsolete


Tori Park

The 2021 Met Gala brought many controversies.

Eman Abdurezak, Esther Fu, and Dania Rustom

What was once a good-natured fundraiser for the Costume Institute has transformed into a world-renowned event—a marker of class and status. The Met Gala, founded in 1948 by Eleanor Lambert, is an annual charity event for what is now the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Attended by a handpicked group of 500-600 high-status celebrities, the event is a castle on the hill for aspiring fashion designers. As glamorous and alluring as this gala may seem, holding it during this time of heightened political tension, predominantly caused by the pandemic, has led to criticism from the public.

The 2021 Met Gala brought many controversies, especially regarding this year’s theme. Hoping to rediscover American identity and fashion, Andrew Bolton, the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute Curator, explained the theme of “America: A Lexicon of Fashion” to Vogue: “I’ve been really impressed by American designers’ responses to the social and political climate, particularly around issues of body inclusivity and gender fluidity. I really do believe that American fashion is undergoing a renaissance.” However, many believe it was an insensitive and tone-deaf attempt to glorify the state of America today, creating a false sense of patriotism and disregarding the struggles of middle to lower-class Americans. Seeing that the event is held in close proximity to the Bronx, a poverty-stricken borough in New York, watching wealthy, grade-A celebrities glide down a velvet red carpet raised some eyebrows. Was it necessary for this exclusive $3.5 million event to take place, considering that this large sum of money could have been spent on more meaningful matters, especially in the surrounding area?

[The Met Gala] must collaborate with the community to recognize the collective artistic progress of our nation.

A large topic of debate in the media was the bold statement dress worn by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cortez grew up in the Bronx herself, and after boycotting the event in 2019, she decided to attend the gala with the phrase “Tax The Rich” emblazoned in bright red against her white Brother Vellies dress. Many claimed it was an act of hypocrisy to try to increase her relatability as a woman from a humble background while attending such a prestigious event. Additionally, claims arose that Brother Vellies themselves failed to pay their taxes. Others countered that this type of event was the only place where this would be appropriate, seeing it would send a message to the people that the words were targeting. Regardless, Cortez accomplished what she had set out to do, which was to start a conversation.

The Met is currently representative of the juxtaposition of the lives of the top 1% with the people in the same city, who live paycheck to paycheck. If the intent of the gala truly is to commemorate artists’ work, it must collaborate with the community to recognize the collective artistic progress of our nation.

This piece also appears in our October 2021 print edition.