While the rest of the world wakes up, puts on a pot of coffee, and scrolls through their Twitter feeds critiquing the latest Met Gala red carpet, New York has a hangover. Monday night's fashion Superbowl offered the best of Catholic-inspired looks, with celebrities split on adhering to the theme, interpreting it in their own ways, or ignoring it altogether. Still, all went according to plan: Rihanna ruled, and the rest more or less came and went.
Though we felt spoiled by a lot last night — you saw that proposal, right? — there was something missing. Months after a Hollywood awards season full of #MeToo statements and Time's Up pins, red carpets that turned black and white (and ball gowns into pantsuits), and a pause on those pesky Who are you wearing? types of fashion questions, red carpet culture is changing. And protest fashion couldn't be more on-trend.
After an evening bursting with visual opulence but bereft of much political discourse, we're left wondering: Why can't we make good on our word to smash the patriarchy? And why, after other cultural shocks to the system — like the Parkland shooting, which saw celebrities calling for increased gun control — was last night's red carpet so...silent? Even in the name of charity and $30k/head tables, why is fashion still giving free passes to designers like John Galliano and Stefano Gabbana, suggesting that bigotry is forgettable? Or worse, fake news?
This is the Met Gala, people — the red carpet of all red carpets, a marble arched runway of fashion that ends in a stairway to couture Heaven (at least this year). Though the Costume Institute's Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination theme focused on the ornate, outward glamour of a fraught religious institution, inspiring the most haute of haute couture from designers like Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, and Christian Dior — the event, which could have been the grand finale of a historic and transformative red carpet season, fell woefully short.
Frustratingly, the theme itself set the scene for at least a happy medium between fashion-fashion and fashion-with-a-purpose. Hell, not even Gaultier-clad Madonna added any shock value to the night outside of a "surprise" performance that paid homage to her lifelong love-hate relationship with the Catholic church. In fact, the most political last night got was when Lena Waithe stepped out in a custom rainbow cape by Carolina Herrera. When asked why she sported the prideful getup, The Chi creator said, "It's like my skin. I'm proud to be in it and put the community on my back to make sure they know I got 'em all the time." Scarlett Johansson's tulle Marchesa number also served as our first look at the tainted luxury brand post-Weinstein, but whether it was in subtle support of the movie mogul's estranged wife or a simple style choice wasn't explicitly stated.
Though these moments didn't go unnoticed, wouldn't it have been cool to see designers bringing activists as their dates? They post enough images of them on their personal Instagrams, after all, and have grown increasingly woke in their collections in recent years; we thought there'd at least be gestures similar to those we saw at the Golden Globes or the Oscars. What about ribbons? White roses? What happened to standing in solidarity instead of (Catholic) spirituality? The for-once-meaningful red carpet interviews calling for social justice and positive change? A reprise of #BoycottDolceandGabbana? The gap between what did happen versus what could have happened stretched longer than the Museum Mile.
As the fashion industry confronts its own inner demons, such as the depths and decades of sexual harassment in the worlds of modeling and photography and an imbalance of diversity of all kinds, it's time to use our biggest platform (outside of Instagram) to separate alternative facts from hard, painful truths. The Met Gala may also be fashion's most fun night; yes, there's humor to be found in a gathering of the richest people in the world strutting around a museum after-hours essentially dressed in drag. But when will the industry, much like the Catholic Church, stop covering up its secrets and, finally, tell the truth?