Met Gala – pure-gold looks on New York’s glitziest night

Blake Lively stands on red-carpeted steps in flowing gold-pink gown and tiara
Actor Blake Lively on the Met red carpet on Monday night in Versace gown and Statue of Liberty-style tiara © FilmMagic

Monday marked the return of America’s biggest, glitziest night of fashion: the Met Gala. The event celebrated the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition, In America: An Anthology of Fashion. In keeping with the title – and, perhaps, to give the attendees and their stylists something good to chew on – the official red-carpet theme was “Gilded Glamor”, a reference to the Gilded Age in late 19th-century America.

For the Met Gala’s avid peanut gallery, the big question is always: who delivered on the theme in the most apt or creative way? Did some attendees skip the historical aspect of “Gilded Glamor” and simply turn up dripping in gold? Absolutely they did. Did some paint history with a broad brush and opt for flapper-esque look better suited to a 1920s theme? Yes, and her name is Emma Stone, who did in fact look lovely in white, feathered Louis Vuitton. Here’s the thing: it’s fine to go rogue, as long as you do it with panache.

Those who attempted true tributes to Gilded Age fashion did so with clever modernizing tweaks. The years between 1870 and 1890 were characterized by tremendous industrialization and economic growth in the US – concentrating wealth among families such as the Rockefellers and Carnegies – as well as mass immigration from across Europe. Among members of the New York society, the dominant fashion trend was conspicuous consumption, says Valerie Steele, a historian at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Women of that milieu went for an exaggerated hourglass figure cinched by a corset, and their dresses typically had full skirts with bustles. Puffed shoulders, plunging necklines and choker necklaces rounded out the look.

On the Met Gala red carpet, there were a great many corsets, innumerable evening gloves and a lot of era-appropriate cleavage. The singer Normani wore a midriff-baring Christian Siriano outfit that Steele described to me as a “wonderful deconstruction of Gilded Age fashion” – a velvet bra top with puffy sleeves and a strappy neckline that evoked the boning of a corset, worn with a luxuriously padded skirt.

The singer Billie Eilish presented an underwear-as-outerwear riff on Gilded Age fashion in an upcycled cream and celery Gucci gown with exposed hooks running up her corset-like bodice. Bridgerton actor Nicola Coughlan went for a whimsical version of the puffed shoulder in a bubblegum-pink Richard Quinn dress that seemed to be sprouting delicate pink feathers.

Emma Stone stands smiling on the red carpet.  She wears above-the-knee white feathered dress

Emma Stone in feathered Louis Vuitton dress. . . © Getty Images

Singer Normani on the red carpet, in black hat, bra top and padded skirt

. . . and singer Normani in a midriff-baring Christian Siriano outfit © Getty Images

In a historical deep cut, The Crown‘s Emma Corrin wore an oversized plaid Miu Miu jacket, white tights and an exaggerated top hat – a nod to the Gilded Age social fixture and fashion plate Evander Berry Wall. Meanwhile, actor Riz Ahmed took the opportunity to highlight the inequities of the era, wearing a loose navy jacket by 4sdesigns over a white tank top, with navy trousers tucked into tall leather boots. “This is an homage to the immigrant workers who kept the Gilded Age going,” he told Vogue’s red-carpet hosts.

Indeed, it’s hard to miss the fact that the Met Gala, much like the Gilded Age itself, is an over-the-top celebration that brings together a cadre of extremely wealthy people and corporations. Elon Musk was in attendance on Monday night, as was Instagram head Adam Mosseri, an honorary co-chair of the event.

'Bridgerton' star Nicola Couglan wears a pink gown and black stole

‘Bridgerton’ actor Nicola Couglan in bubblegum-pink Richard Quinn gown. . . © Getty Images

'The Crown' star Emma Corrin in black shorts suit and top hat, with a Miu Miu jacket slung over her shoulder
. . . and ‘The Crown’ star Emma Corrin in Miu Miu jacket, white tights and top hat © Getty Images

There are multiple economies tied up in the Met Gala. On the most basic level, it functions as a benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, the museum’s only self-funded department, which has staged blockbuster shows including Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty and Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. Last year, the Met Gala brought in a reported $ 16.4mn. Much like the Academy Awards, it’s also a major marketing opportunity for fashion designers, who attend with a gaggle of celebrities as their dates. Eye-popping fashion plus A-list names adds up to major visibility on social media.

Actor Riz Ahmed on the red carpet in loose navy jacket, white t-shirt and dark trousers in high boots

Actor Riz Ahmed in navy jacket by 4sdesigns © Getty Images

Elon Musk stands smiling on the red carpet, alongside his mother Maye in long velvet gown and a long strand of pearls

Elon Musk with his mother Maye Musk, who wears a Dior Haute Couture velvet dress © Getty Images

And in a landscape where many traditional publishers have struggled to keep up with the digital transformation of media, the Met Gala plays an important role in maintaining the supremacy of Anna Wintour’s Vogue. Wintour has co-chaired the event since 1995, turning it into the fevered red-carpet show it is today. While reporters from other news outlets typically line the steps of the Met, Vogue’s editorial staff get the best, most exclusive, access to the event and its attendees.

Rather than going for pure historical authenticity, a handful of attendees used their looks to celebrate New York City. Actor Blake Lively, one of the night’s co-chairs, channelled the Statue of Liberty in a spiked tiara and a gleaming copper Versace dress that, when its gathered bustle was released, revealed a green train patina (printed with the constellations of Grand Central Station’s ceiling). Singer Alicia Keys, a native New Yorker, wore a sparkling silver Ralph Lauren column gown and a black cape embellished with the city’s skyline in crystals. New York City Mayor Eric Adams turned up too, in a tux with the words “End Gun Violence” printed on the back.

Vogue's Anna Wintour steps on the red carpet in long skirt and feathered cape

Vogue’s Anna Wintour in Chanel haute couture by Virginie Viard © Getty Images

Singer Alicia Keys in silver gown and cape embellished with crystals depicting the New York skyline

Singer Alicia Keys in silver Ralph Lauren gown with cape embellished with crystals depicting the New York skyline © Getty Images for The Met Museum

Then there was the pure gilded glitz. Designer Jeremy Scott dressed his Moschino crew, which included West Side Story star Ariana DeBose and rapper Megan Thee Stallion, in black-and-gold looks inspired by the moldings of old-money mansions. The singer Lizzo also went for black and gold in the form of a triumphant and meticulously embroidered Thom Browne robe. (She accessed with a gold flute.) Actor Carey Mulligan opted for an inky Schiaparelli gown with a gleaming gold breastplate and train. One of the best gilded moments of the night came from Top Chef All-Stars winner Melissa King, who paired a crisp Thom Browne shorts suit with a jewel-encrusted Chinese nail guard designed by Chris Habana.

Singer Lizzo in floor-skimming black-and-gold embroidered robe.  .  .
Singer Lizzo in black-and-gold Thom Browne robe © Getty Images

Kim Kardashian, in figure-hugging crystal embellished dress, with comedian Pete Davidson who wears a black suit and dark glasses
Kim Kardashian in Marilyn Monroe’s crystal-embellished dress, with comedian Pete Davidson © GC Images

In what might have been the night’s biggest fashion flex, a newly platinum-haired Kim Kardashian turned up in a white stole and the form-fitting crystal-embellished dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to sing “Happy Birthday” to JFK in 1962. Like I said, if you’re going to go off-theme, it pays to go big.

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