In 1883, Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt attended her sister-in-law’s famous masquerade party in a dazzling gold and silver dress, customary in Paris and named Electric Light, complete with hidden batteries that lit a torch she held above her head .
Today’s A-listers are hoping to generate their own power at Monday night’s Met Gala, whose dress code is ‘gilded glamour’. But rather than ultra-modern clothes like Mrs. Vanderbilt’s, some insiders fear attendees will embrace the tackiest aspects of late 19th-century Manhattan society. Will the dresses resemble the costumes from the hit HBO series The Gilded Age, in which Carrie Coon’s socially-climbing Bertha truant around her Fifth Avenue mansion in couture?
While extravagance has helped make Anna Wintour’s annual Met Gala the most anticipated red carpet of the year — “It’s a bigger deal than the Oscars,” said Christina Pacelli, who has dressed celebs like Laverne Cox for the big night — say some observers get-ups have become too garish.
“It turned into a costume party,” designer and frequent gala chair Tom Ford told journalist Amy Odell in her book Anna: The Biography, out Tuesday.
“[It] It used to be very smart people wearing very nice clothes who went to an 18th-century exhibition,” continued Ford. “You didn’t have to look like you were in the 18th century, you didn’t have to dress like a hamburger, you didn’t have to arrive in a van you’re standing in because you couldn’t sit down because you were carrying a chandelier.”
Ford may have a slightly idealized view of the galas of yesteryear – at least one person turned up for the 1981 ball themed for the 18th Century Woman exhibition, dressed in breeches! But the attire and themes have gotten crazier in the days since Princess Diana attended in an elegant Dior slip dress.
In recent years, Rihanna wore a pope’s hat for 2018’s Heavenly Bodies, Jared Leto wore a replica of his own head for 2019’s Camp, and Lil Nas X modeled a sexy C-3PO costume for American Independence ‘ last year He revealed a glittery Versace catsuit underneath.
And lest you think Ford overdid it, Katy Perry did wear a chandelier and a hamburger costume – same night.
“It’s Very Halloween”
“Some of the things that Kim Kardashian wore — I mean, it’s very Halloween,” said John Tiffany, a fashion historian and brand consultant who once assisted Eleanor Lambert, the legendary fashion publicist who dreamed up the first Met’s Costume Institute benefit was named Party of the Year in 1948. Back then, Tiffany said, the party was a benefit dinner, but by the 1970s, when newly fired Vogue editor Diana Vreeland began occupying the Costume Institute, the gala became associated with every fashion exhibition opening at the museum, “which always.” were completely exaggerated”.
“It’s always been a creative party,” said Dennita Sewell, a fashion professor at Arizona State University who worked at the Costume Institute in the 1990s — when lower-level staff could actually attend the party. “People have always dressed smartly, but it wasn’t that extreme… No one would have done anything that wasn’t graceful and elegant.”
“The themes were noted,” she added, “but it wasn’t like the whole party was competing with the exhibition.”
Sometimes it can feel like this.
“It has evolved from an industry event that celebrates the history of fashion to an event that celebrates celebrities,” stylist Tracy Taylor told The Post. “Designers really were the focus of galas in the 20th and early 21st centuries: Alexander McQueen, Halston – Halston would never have designed anything you couldn’t sit in! But lately there has been a focus on themes and I feel that encourages more extreme interpretations and outfits.”
The invite list has changed to include more celebrities – in recent years musicians in particular, who are used to wearing costumes on stage and often see fashion as a performance.
“As a musician like Rihanna, it’s not that difficult to look edgy,” Taylor said. “They’re expected to be a little bit extravagant or really creative and express who they are through their clothes.” And that translates to the red carpet.
Gilded Glamor is a dress code that allows for many different interpretations – from a corset dress with a huge bustle and swathes of lush taffeta to a seductive gold lamé slip to a sequin dress – and plenty of ways to up the ante.
The Gilded Age was one of “tremendous growth and wealth due to industrialization and real estate, and the clothes reflected that opulence,” Taylor said. “It was about these new celebs and peacocks, and that’s what the Met Gala is about.”
Still, it could be read as unmusical. The era, which spanned from 1870 to 1900, was also one of extreme poverty — with exploited immigrant families living in crowded, unsanitary tenements on the Lower East Side while the titans of Fifth Avenue ate oysters and lobster in their Parisian couture ( perversely modeled on the French court fashion of the 17th century).
“The world is on the move,” said Bronwyn Cosgrave, host of the Fashion Conversations podcast, citing the war in Ukraine and the rise in violence in the US. “In New York City, where the Met Gala is held, there’s huge problems with homelessness, mental health problems … I’m not sure if gilded glamor is what we need.”
Others argue that it is exactly what is needed now.
“In difficult times, people turn to the imagination,” Phyllis Magidson, a fashion curator who worked with the Museum of the City of New York, told The Post.
“Everyone is stricken, and what better way to escape than through the fashion of the times?”
Some participants also welcome the wonderfully bright theme of the gala.
“I think for me personally, part of the fun is dressing up for the theme,” Katy Perry’s stylist Tatiana Waterford told The Post. “Katy always dresses thematically. But she’s always had a keen sense of style that lends itself to an over-the-top Met Gala look.”
However, even Perry plans to tone things down this year. “She won’t look crazy, but it’s Katy, so there won’t be a lack of drama,” Waterford said. “I wish I could reveal more, but you’ll just have to wait and see!”