Ad-DRESS-ing Social Issues

Met Gala attendees sparked controversy with activism through outfits that evoked powerful political statements.


Ray Tamarra

AOC and designer Aurora James make their first Met Gala appearance.

     Sumptuous displays of appreciation for fashion were showcased in the annual Met Gala, a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. On September 13 of 2021, the Met Gala signaled the opening of the annual fashion exhibit.

     Hollywood’s biggest stars, politicians, and other talents walked along a crimson carpet and up the steps of the Metropolitan in bountiful layers of tulle, satin lettering, lace designs, and some bearing bold political statements.

        Each event has a theme that attendees are asked to follow; examples from previous years include camp, religion, and punk. Open for interpretation, most viewers of the Met Gala are astonished by the amount of creativity that celebrities and designers display, especially those memorable and powerful looks that decide to address social issues. 

     This year’s theme was “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” which paid homage to America’s celebration of fashion throughout the years. It was paired with “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” which is the theme for 2022. 

    Billie Eilish wore an enormous Oscar de la Renta dress in a soft champagne tint. She channeled the Old Hollywood era paired with her hair styled as an allusion to Marilyn Monroe‘s classic look. Oscar de la Renta promised to go fur-free in order for Eilish to wear the dress. 

     Her animal activism raised awareness of the impact of fur products in the fashion industry, long seen as one of the worst manufacturers of toxic-metal pollution. The industry’s contribution to climate change, land devastation, pollution, and water contamination is detrimental to the earth and Eilish’s advocacy for vegan products from Oscar de la Renta is one step closer to ,making positive changes to protect the environment.

    U.S. Representative for New York’s 12th congressional district, Democrat  Carolyn B. Maloney arrived in a colorful ensemble bearing gold, purple, green, and white, an homage to the women’s suffrage movement. The statement “Equal Rights for Women” was draped all over her gown, while she carried around a clutch reading “ERA YES.” Her outfit demonstrated her support for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

     Megan Rapinoe, a member US Women’s soccer team, advocated for gay rights at this year’s Met Gala. She wore a full scarlet suit with a royal blue star spangled shirt underneath. The patriotic outfit was paired with a small handbag that read “In Gay We Trust.” The statement was a reference to the official motto of the United States, “In God We Trust.”

     Daniel Levy, the Schitt’s Creek co creator, also advocated for LGBTQ rights as well as promoted AIDS awareness with his powerful Met Gala ensemble. His outfit, designed by Loewe’s Jonathan Anderson, drew inspiration from two pieces by the American artist and activist David Wojnarowicz. They collaborated on a creation that celebrated “queer love and queer visibility” with intricate hand embroidery and beading that depicted a gay couple kissing with a map of the world surrounding them. 

     Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez donned a white off-the-shoulder dress with bold satin lettering covering the back. The large and bright red design choices ensured that “TAX THE RICH ” was visible to all who saw AOC in her Met Gala look. Her message evoked conversation about the economy and how progressive her design choice truly was considering that the Met Gala, from an economic standpoint, is also a celebration of luxury and wealth alongside art and fashion. 

     Asher Rawlins ‘24 said “Addressing social issues was inevitable given the theme, but American capitalism is the real problem, and while AOC’s dress was great in theory, she still paid the $30,000 for a ticket.” However, AOC was successful in using this opportunity to spread her message, and it definitely caught people’s attention. 

     Nikkie de Jager, a popular Youtube makeup artist, wore a teal mermaid dress and a matching crown both dusted in colorful flowers. The words “Pay It No Mind” were emblazoned on a ribbon that hung down to the bottom of her dress–a nod to activist and drag queen, Marsha P. Johnson. Johnson, a black, transgender woman, was a central figure in the American LGBTQ rights movement.   

     Iris Avci ‘24 said, “In terms of activism, I think that there are a lot of people who are very passionate about their causes…but people like AOC [and Daniel Levy] they really are truly passionate about their causes and I think it’s beautiful to implement the things that you are passionate about. . . . [The] Met Gala is very public. A lot of people are going to be seeing it; a lot of people are going to be exposed to a lot of topics they haven’t been exposed to before, so I think it’s a great way to bring about the topics that you are advocating for.” 

     Each outfit became an important part of not only fashion history but American historyFashion is a powerful way to express yourself, and the Met Gala facilitates celebrities using fashion to take a stand on topical issues. Such events and displays of art emphasize the importance of using your platform and power to make sure the problems in society are not overlooked.