In 1883, Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt attended her sister-in-law’s famous masquerade party in a dazzling gold-and-silver dress, custom-made from Paris, called Electric Light, complete with hidden batteries that lit a torch she held above her head.
Today’s A-listen hope to generate their own electricity at Monday night’s Met Gala, for which the dress code is “gilded glamour.” But instead of cutting-edge dresses like Ms. Vanderbilt’s, some insiders fear attendees will embrace the tackiest aspects of late-19th-century Manhattan society. Will dresses resemble the costumes in the hit HBO series ‘The Gilded Age’, in which Carrie Coon’s social-climbing Bertha swells in couture around her Fifth Avenue mansion?
While exuberance 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 celebrities like Laverne Cox for the big night — some say. observers that the get-ups have become too flashy.
“It’s turned into a costume party,” designer and frequent gala host Tom Ford told journalist Amy Odell in her book “Anna: The Biography,” released Tuesday.
†[It] It used to be just really fancy people wearing really nice clothes going to an 18th century exhibit,” Ford continued. “You didn’t have to look like the 18th century, you didn’t have to dress like a hamburger, you didn’t have to arrive in a van where you were standing because you couldn’t sit down because you had a chandelier.”
Ford may have a somewhat idealized view of the galas of yore – at least one person showed up at the 1981 prom, themed by the exhibition ‘The Eighteenth Century Woman’ Dressed in Knee Shorts! But the clothes and themes have gotten crazier over time since Princess Diana showed up in a sleek Dior slip dress.
In recent years, Rihanna has worn a pope hat for the “Heavenly Bodies” of 2018, Jared Leto with a replica of his own head for “Camp” in 2019, and Lil Nas X modeled a sexy C-3PO costume for the “American Independence.” from last year, which he tossed to reveal a sparkly Versace catsuit underneath.
And lest you think Ford was exaggerating, Katy Perry did wear a chandelier and a hamburger costume – on the same night.
‘It’s very Halloween’
“Some things Kim Kardashian has worn — 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 conceived the Met’s first benefit of the Costume Institute, when in 1948 named the Feast of the Year. Back then, Tiffany said, the party was a fundraiser dinner, but in the 1970s, when newly fired Vogue editor Diana Vreeland began staffing the Costume Institute, the gala became associated with any fashion. exhibition was opened at the museum, “which were always completely over the top.”
“It’s always been a creative party,” says Dennita Sewell, a fashion professor at Arizona State University who worked at the Costume Institute in the 1990s — when lower-ranking staffers could actually attend the party. “People used to dress up, but it wasn’t that extreme… No one would have done something that wasn’t graceful and elegant.”
“The themes were noted,” she added, “but it wasn’t like the whole party was part of the exhibit.”
Sometimes it can feel that way.
“It’s gone from being an industry event celebrating fashion history to being a celebrity,” stylist Tracy Taylor told The Post. “Designers were really the focus of the 20th century and early 21st century galas: Alexander McQueen, Halston – Halston would never have designed something you couldn’t sit in! But lately, the focus has been on themes, and I feel like it’s encouraging more extreme interpretations and outfits.”
The list of invitations has been changed to include more celebrities, especially musicians in recent years, who are used to wearing costumes on stage and often think of fashion as performing.
“If you’re a musician like Rihanna, it’s not that big of a challenge to look strange,” Taylor said. “They’re expected to be a bit more flamboyant or really creative and show who they are by how they dress.” And that translates to the red carpet.
“Gilded glamour” is a dress code that allows for many different interpretations — from a corset dress with a massive bust and sections of luscious taffeta to a devious 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 from industrialization and real estate, and the dresses reflected that opulence,” Taylor said. “It was about these new celebrities and peacocking, and that’s what the Met Gala is about.”
Still, it could read as tone deaf. Stretching from 1870 to 1900, the era was also marked by extreme poverty – with exploited immigrant families living in crowded, unsanitary tenements on the Lower East Side, while the titans of Fifth Avenue dined on oysters and lobster in their Parisian couture ( modeled, perverse, about 17th-century French court fashion).
“The world is on the move,” said Bronwyn Cosgrave, host of the “Fashion Conversations” podcast, referring to the war in Ukraine and the increasing violence in the US. “In New York City, where the Met Gala is taking place, there are massive homelessness issues, mental health issues… I’m not sure if gilded glamor is what we need.”
Others argue that this is exactly what is needed now.
“When times are tough, people turn to fantasy,” Phyllis Magidson, a fashion curator who worked with the Museum of the City of New York, told The Post.
“Everyone is battered, and what better way to escape than through era fashion?”
Some in attendance also embrace the gala’s gloriously ostentatious theme.
“Personally, I think it’s fun to dress the theme,” Katy Perry’s stylist, Tatiana Waterford, told The Post. “Katy always dresses by theme. But she’s always had a distinctive sense of style that lends itself to an over-the-top Met Gala look.”
That said, even Perry plans to tone things down this year. “She won’t look silly, 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!”