One of the most talked-about fashion events of the year, the Met Gala, took place on September 13 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to celebrate the opening of the Costume Institute’s exhibit, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion. People flocked to social media to share their takes on the guests’ style hits and misses and comment on how each guest chose to interpret the year’s theme.The relatively broad theme of “American fashion” left the dress code open to interpretation, even more than in previous years. While many guests chose to follow the theme by simply wearing pieces by American designers, others decided to take creative liberty and approached the theme in various ways to represent the history of American fashion from their perspective.


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Some took the theme literally by incorporating the American flag into their look. Notable examples included soccer player Megan Rapinoe, who wore a red, white, and blue suit by Sergio Hudson, and singer Debbie Harry, who wore a denim jacket with a deconstructed flag hoop skirt by Zac Posen. Another creative take on American iconography included Lili Reinhart’s floral gown by Christian Siriano, adorned with 50 official state flowers.


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For many commentators’ money, looks which referenced American film and celebrity iconography won out as the fan favorites of the night. Kendall Jenner’s bejeweled Givenchy dress directly referenced Audrey Hepburn’s gown by Cecil Beaton from the 1964 film My Fair Lady, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design. Event co-chair Billie Eilish wore a stunning Oscar de la Renta gown that she claimed was inspired by Holiday Barbie and seemed reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s most iconic fashion moments.


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Elsewhere, Emily Blunt’s ensemble by Miu Miu seemed to recall actress Hedy Lamarr’s star-studded gown and matching headpiece in the 1941 musical film Ziegfeld Girl. Likewise, Jennifer Lopez’s look by Ralph Lauren seemed to be inspired by Western cinema in general, even featuring a cowboy hat as the look’s centerpiece.


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Other callbacks to American pop culture included references to style icons who had graced the Met Gala’s red carpet years prior. For example, model Kaia Gerber’s Oscar de la Renta dress was almost precisely a recreation of the black Halston gown which Bianca Jagger wore at the 1981 Met Gala. Likewise, Keke Palmer’s bedazzled black gown by Sergio Hudson referenced another Studio 54 mainstay, Diana Ross, with hair and makeup influenced by the Motown superstar’s iconic 70s look.


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Much attention was paid to the more overtly political statements of the night, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich” dress by Aurora James and Cara Delevigne’s “Peg the Patriarchy” vest by Dior. However, some of the most poignant looks inspired by American political and social history flew under the radar.


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Notable examples included makeup artist and influencer Nikkie De Jagar’s floral look, which paid tribute to American queer icon Marsha P. Johnson, and drag queen Symone’s golden tribute to drag trailblazer Rupaul designed by Moschino. Quannah Chasinghorse also showcased her Native American heritage with her elaborate turquoise jewelry and stunning gown by Dundas.


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The American-inspired fashion seen on the Met red carpet may have been our first glimpse at what to expect from the accompanying exhibit. On view at the museum from September 18, 2021, through September 5, 2022, The Met Costume Institute’s In America: A Lexicon of Fashion exhibit “establishes a modern vocabulary of American fashion based on its expressive qualities,” as well as its “varied cultural identities,” according to the museum’s website. 

The first of two parts of the In America installations, the exhibit contains approximately 100 men’s and women’s ensembles featuring pieces from the 1940s to the present day. The collection is divided into 12 sections that “explore defining emotional qualities,” including Nostalgia, Belonging, Delight, Joy, Wonder, Affinity, Confidence, Strength, Desire, Assurance, Comfort, and Consciousness. 

Part two of the exhibit, entitled In America: An Anthology of Fashion, will open in the American Wing period rooms on May 5, 2022. The second section will “present sartorial narratives that relate to the complex and layered history” of the period rooms. For those who will not be in New York for the next year to view it in person, a catalog featuring both exhibits will become available in May 2022.

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