Looks of the Lexicon: The Met Gala 2021


Adi Gamradt

Sketch of Anok Yai channeling “Old Hollywood” glam in a Spring 2022 Oscar De La Renta.

In America: A Lexicon in Fashion. After nearly two years of nationwide quarantines, social justice unrest, economy and job market crashes and most recently, events that derailed the trajectory of reproductive rights, the celebration of American fashion seems almost frivolous. To have the country’s most influential, prestigious people gathered in one museum on the second Monday of September dressed to the nines in millions of dollars worth of clothing and jewelry sounds straight out of a dystopian film. Dubbed “Fashion’s Night Out,” The Met recognizes artists and designers in a fundraising event known as The Met Gala, which has a distinct theme each year representative of the latest exhibit showcased inside The Metropolitan Museum. The event poses the question of whether or not a night of fashion, dancing and drinking is the right time to propose a toast to America considering all that the country has experienced since the recent turn of the decade.

Besides being a night to acknowledge the country and the “lexicon” it has to offer, The Met primarily serves as an event that sparks endless conversation and lively debates about the seemingly controversial looks which its distinguished attendees arrive in. Considering that the stars prepare for the event for months in advance makes it seem that there should not be any room for things to critique, yet, what is fashion without its perfectly snarky commentary from its most esteemed judges: two teenage girls who spend more time picking outfits than doing their homework?

There’s no better place to start than with the worst. Not to our surprise, several of the usual culprits (mostly white middle-aged oscar-nominated actors) arrived wearing unremarkable, simply predictable looks that might have passed at the Golden Globes or their uncle’s third wedding. The drab appearance of their frankly boring suits left absolutely nothing to the imagination and honestly was a disgrace to the remarkable artists whose work was showcased inside of the museum. From Channing Tatum to Adrian Brody, these men gave viewers absolutely nothing. To put it simply, their black suits should result in them being blacklisted from ever setting foot in The Met again. 

Don’t be fooled- just because some stars went for the basic approach does not mean that those who opted for over-the-top looks left viewers impressed either. Celebrities walk a fine line between making a powerful statement and looking simply tacky at events with such high stakes as The Met, and the number of looks that left viewers shocked in all the wrong ways were overwhelming this year. From 2000s prom dress-esque looks to distractingly large motifs, many outfits were eyesores from brands that usually hit the mark. The first of the many painful looks was Camila Cabello’s sparkly electric purple Michael Kors ensemble which looked like a dress that would be sold at tween retail chain Justice™ in 2010. 

So tasteless that her middle name might as well be “Tacky,” Megan Fox wore an ill-fitting, blood red and sharply lined Dundas dress. As if Fox’s recent looks have not been immature enough, her Met look took the cake. Not only was the dress straight out of a 2016 FashionNova campaign, but her hair and makeup were also simply awful. Resemblant of Morticia Addams with a Party City clip-on bang, her hair looked cheaply done and did not pair well with her overdone makeup look. And seriously, a nose ring at The Met? Do better, Megan. 

For a man who didn’t show up in a basic tuxedo, Dan Levy had viewers wishing he did. His Loewe ensemble left fans unsure of where to look – it was overwhelming in all the wrong ways with a plethora of sequins, colors and graphics overwhelming the space of the suit. Outfit aside, the political statement Levy is making expressing pride in queer love deserves plenty of respect and acknowledgment.

The land of the free and the home of the brave has proven itself to have some hope left as there were still some jaw-droppingly beautiful, and mostly on-theme looks showcased on the iconic Met steps. Leading the pack in a history-making Oscar De La Renta gown, 19-year-old singer-songwriter Billie Eilish did not fall short for her first Met, which she happened to be co-hosting alongside Timothee Chalamet, Amanda Gorman and Naomi Osaka. Eilish channeled Marilyn Monroe’s old Hollywood glamour in a nude tulle ballgown with a show-stopping 12-foot train. Not only was it her first time working with Oscar De La Renta, but Eilish also made a global impact in agreeing to wear the design if the brand went completely fur-free. Fellow host Amanda Gorman stunned in a sparkling bright blue high-low Vera Wang dress. Her clutch read the iconic words of the Statue Of Liberty, “Give me your tired.” Reminiscent of the symbolic statue, Gorman successfully embodied the American theme of immigration and the American dream all while looking radiant. 

On the other hand, the other half of the host group, Chalamet and Osaka did not impress. Chalamet left viewers wondering, “Is he fashionable or is he just hot?” in a Haider Ackermann suit dressed down as it was paired with baggy sweatpants and high-top converse. This look would pass on the streets of New York City, but under the Met tent, it simply did not cut it. Failing to meet the theme and appearing far too casual for a host of such an event, Chalamet missed the mark. Osaka wore Louis Vuitton in an outfit that paid homage to her Japanese heritage, but ultimately the look could have been executed better and seemed as if it was thrown together at the last minute and paired with an overly bright makeup and hair look.

Another guest who was dressed to impress at her first met was “Euphoria” star Barbie Ferreira. In a jaw-dropping pearl gown from Jonathan Simkai, Ferreira perfectly embodied the American spirit of Art Deco and the roaring 20s. Her bold makeup choice featured paper-thin eyebrows with a purple eye which perfectly complemented her dress. After her stylish debut, it would be shocking if Ferreira will not be invited to next year’s gala. 

Also following the 20s entertainment theme, actress Yara Shahidi debuted a custom Dior look inspired by Josephine Baker. Called a “thrilling moment of fashion” by Vogue, Shahidi’s look was simply perfect and refreshing coming from Maria Grazia’s house of Dior. Not only was her sparkly, feminine look right on theme, but the “Mixed-ish” star looked stunning as she was photographed on the Met steps. 

The honoring of iconic American actresses didn’t stop with Shahidi – model Kendall Jenner paid tribute to Audrey Hepburn’s legendary looks in “Funny Face” in a sheer glittering Givenchy dress. Her minimalistic, glowing makeup and simple updo helped focus viewers on Matthew Williams’ artistry behind her glimmering dress which most certainly stole the show. Unlike most of her other red carpet and street style outfits, Jenner’s Met look was perfect in every way and successfully honored Hepburn’s legacy.

The best look of all at the star-studded night undoubtedly came from 23-year-old supermodel Anok Yai. With yet another Met debut, Yai looked gorgeous in another beautiful Oscar De La Renta beautiful dress of the night. Coincidentally, Yai also paid homage to Josephine Baker similar to Yara Shahidi. Yai’s dress featured a black deep v silhouette and was embroidered with glittering gemstones across the bodice. Her makeup look was put together and paired perfectly with her swooping bob hairstyle. Yai truly dressed to impress at this year’s Met. 

The patriotic theme was not complete without its fair share of political statement-making outfits, either. Kim Kardashian West wore a full Balenciaga look which sparked the creation of endless Twitter memes mocking her skin-tight black look which hugged all parts of her body, including her face. The lack of words or even colors in Kardashian West’s look somehow felt powerful. It was quite ironic how a woman who based her fame off of the sexualization of her body and absolutely no political points did not show an inch of her skin, yet social media users still found ways to sexualize Kardashian West’s outfit. 

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also made a bold statement at her first Met. In a video diary with Vogue, Ocasio-Cortez said that she felt the need to “bring more people into the conversation” about taxation and status as she wore a custom Aurora James look that read “Tax The Rich” in bright red text on the back of the mermaid-style gown. In the hours following her red carpet arrival, Ocasio-Cortez was trending on Twitter and was tagged in thousands of posts, some of which applauded her statement while others called her cowardly, disgusting and tasteless. The congresswoman certainly took a risk by stating that the rich need to be taxed at an event with some of the world’s richest people in attendance. Ocasio-Cortez’s praise-receiving dress certainly sparked meaningful conversations between anonymous Twitter users who posted about their stances on tax to their whopping single-digit follower lists.

British model Cara Delevigne did not hit the mark with her attempt at a political statement in a Dior look which resembled an open diaper taped to loose-fitting white pants with the words “Peg the Patriarchy” loosely stuck to the top. The vagueness of her statement left viewers questioning what exactly she was trying to say. Ultimately, the satirical tone of her outfit did not leave an impact in the way that Ocasio-Cortez’s dress did. Besides Delevigne, Ocasio-Cortez and Kardashian West, there was a surprising lack of political statements this year considering the opportunity which the theme provided to start such conversations.

Contrary to the statement-making looks, per usual, there were many looks that although “nice,” were nothing even slightly remarkable for The Met. For the most part, these outfits were simple, solid-colored dresses with no relation to the night’s theme. Examples of such looks include Madison Beer’s gemstone-encrusted green dress, Blackpink’s Rosé’s frankly boring Yves Saint Laurent minidress and model Joan Smalls’ underwhelming white halterneck dress. These looks had viewers questioning why named attendees were even invited to the Met in the first place and if they represented high fashion or just pretty faces with connections in the entertainment industry.

Another huge disappointment from the night was the obvious lack of red carpet icons present. Legendary Met-goers from past years include Bella Hadid, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Blake Lively, Taylor Swift and more. Unfortunately, not one of these highly-anticipated celebrities were at this year’s event, sparking concern over whether they were vaccinated against COVID-19 or not since the event had a strict vaccine mandate for guests to adhere to.

Certainly a lot for viewers to unpack, the plethora of looks from this year’s Met Gala was like a car crash you just couldn’t look away from: painful yet intriguing. The next Met will take place on the first Monday of May 2022 and serves as a continuation of this year’s theme, titled “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.” Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum had planned to split the American theme into two parts, with the second focusing on fashion through the decades. Hopefully next year will serve as an opportunity for stars to redeem themselves after the ironically American chaos of the 2021 Met Gala.