For New York City’s wealthiest inhabitants, the advent of spring means gala season: a string of fancy, expensive parties benefiting museums, cultural institutions such as the ballet, and other charitable causes. Every year, the season hits its crescendo on the first Monday in May, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala. The party is the toughest ticket in town, with a more opulent red carpet than even the Academy Awards. It gets name-checked by rappers and featured in Hollywood blockbusters. For people with even a passing interest in high fashion, it’s the Super Bowl.
Like the Super Bowl, the Met Gala’s red carpet often leaves observers feeling like what they saw wasn’t quite the world-class effort they were promised. The problem is usually with the parties’ themes, which require revelers to dress in celebration of the Costume Institute’s annual exhibit. Every year, in spite of months of notice and the event’s near-unlimited resources, attendees screw up the theme.
In 2015, an exploration of Chinese sartorial culture veered into racist tropes almost immediately. In 2016, the viewing public was promised “technology” and got silver evening gowns. Last night, in what is arguably the event’s most well-established tradition, most attendees forwent the humor and grandeur of “camp” in favor of pretty dresses with sequins or feathers. But attendees aren’t entirely to blame for how well they evince an understanding of the aesthetic codes governing punk (2013) or Catholicism (2018). Instead, the Met Gala’s shortcomings are baked into both the event itself and the industry it represents.