I haven’t dressed up since New Year’s Eve 2020, so it felt great to squeeze into a vintage Arnold Scaasi dress and go to tonight’s celebrity-packed Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Okay, I wasn’t actually inside the Met Gala, but protesting in front of the Met with the tireless activists of Rise and Resist was close enough. The theme of the exhibition that the gala was celebrating is “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” so our signs were designed around that. As you can see, I was outdressed by my fellow activist, Jay Walker, who came as Uncle Sam.
We weren’t the only ones making a statement. At least two attendees dressed to impress my activism-loving heart, making it easy to choose my Best Dressed/Wear What You Want award winner. My congresswoman, Carolyn Maloney, is my runner-up thanks to her sartorial promotion of the Equal Rights Amendment.
I actually walked by Maloney and mistook her for another madly dressed protestor. I should have stopped and gotten a photo of her holding one of our signs and posing with Jay, even if I didn’t recognize her.
My Best Dressed/Wear What You Want winner was another attendee from the world of politics: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She was wearing a “Tax the Rich” dress that made me regret donating my iconic dollar dress to a Los Angeles museum last year.
Honestly, I kept going back and forth about whether this messaging worked for someone attending a notoriously expensive event. I do think it serves as a “fuck you” to the gala’s corporate sponsor, Instagram (aka Spacenook, aka the wealth generator for Mark Zuckerberg). It would have been more satisfying if the exceptionally repugnant Jeff Bezos was there to see it, or perhaps Bernard Arnault of LVMH, but hopefully a few thin-skinned billionaire museum donors — and Anna Wintour — were discomfited for at least a moment. Plus, provenance is everything, so I was happy to learn from stylist Karla Welch’s Instagram post that an independent Black fashion designer created the dress: Aurora James, founder of Brother Vellies and an outspoken supporter of other Black creatives. And this dress got people talking — both in favor and vehemently against — which nails the “Wear What You Want” controversy-seeking part of my award.
More serious activism continued outside the Met, thanks to a large crowd of Black Lives Matter protestors who took to 5th Avenue, resulting in multiple arrests. I missed the chance to support their efforts, unfortunately. After my team was pushed behind police barricades in front of the Met, we went into Central Park to see if we could get any traction behind the museum. (We did find passersby who were enthused about joining us.) When we re-emerged, I found a protest flyer.
The reference to Artem Prusayev — a cop who pulled a gun on protestors in January after one asked him to put on a face mask — makes me think that at these activists included members of a small group I spontaneously joined last Thursday night as they marched by my apartment building. Hopefully, no one was injured in the arrests after today’s action.
The Met fashion exhibit officially opens to the public on September 18. The clothes on exhibit are organized into 12 sections exploring “defining emotional qualities” of American fashion: Nostalgia, Belonging, Delight, Joy, Wonder, Affinity, Confidence, Strength, Desire, Assurance, Comfort, and Consciousness. I can see how those qualities apply to fashion in general, but the minute you add “America” to the mix, “Comfort” is the last thing that springs to mind.
UPDATED SEPT. 14, 2021 TO ADD: Last night, I couldn’t stop thinking of AOC’s dress from a designer’s perspective. I know that if I were asked to design something for a big event, my mischievous side would definitely come out to cause some trouble, so I kept laughing to myself about what Aurora James did. And now here’s her own statement via Instagram:
Also, Aja Barber, the author of Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change, and Consumerism, took to Instagram to explain a few things, far more eloquently than I did last night.
Finally, I need to give an honorary mention for accessorizing to soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who wore star-spangled red, white, and blue, while carrying a purse that said, “In Gay We Trust.”
And it just hit me that I’ve always loved fashion bearing a text message ….
… even before 2020, when I felt strange leaving the house without being covered in messaging.
So even though there were plenty of other very intriguing looks — especially by newer designers like the fabulous Christopher John Rogers — I’m satisfied with my personal awardees!