Fashion statements can also serve as political statements at the Met Gala.
Lena Waithe wore a rainbow cape in 2018 and a suit paying tribute to queer icons in 2019.
In 2021, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a dress with “tax the rich” written on it.
Madonna called her daring Givenchy look at the 2016 Met Gala “a political statement as well as a fashion statement” for women’s rights.
Madonna’s risqué outfit consisted mostly of sheer black lace.
“The fact that people actually believe a woman is not allowed to express her sexuality and be adventurous past a certain age is proof that we still live in an ageist and sexist society,” Madonna wrote in an Instagram post a few days after the Met Gala. “I have never thought in a limited way and I’m not going to start. We cannot effect change unless we are willing to take risks by being fearless and by taking the road less traveled by. That’s how we change history. If you have a problem with the way I dress it is simply a reflection of your prejudice.”
Lena Waithe’s rainbow cape at the Catholic Church-themed Met Gala in 2018 sent a powerful message.
“Tonight, this cape is not imaginary, it’s rainbow-colored,” she told Vogue of her Wes Gordon design. “And we got the black and brown [stripes], you know. I’m reppin’ my community, and I want everybody to know that you can be whoever you are and be completely proud.”
The following year, Waithe and Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean-Raymond wore custom suits featuring statements on the back.
Waithe’s periwinkle suit featured several tributes to the LGBTQ+ community, Jean-Raymond told The Cut. The pinstripes were made of lyrics from the songs “I’m Coming Out,” “You Make Me Feel,” “We Are Family,” “Supermodel,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “I Will Survive,” and “Take Me or Leave Me,” and the buttons featured the faces of queer icons like Grace Jones and RuPaul. The back of her suit read “Black Drag Queens Invented Camp,” in a reference to the 2019 gala theme of “Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion.”
Jean-Raymond’s pinstripes were comprised of lyrics by rappers Nipsey Hussle, Tupac, Jay-Z, Nas, Drake, Meek Mill, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole, and the buttons featured their faces. His suit read, “Fix your credit. Pool money. Buy back the block.”
“We collaborated on really bringing a message,” Waithe told E! News in May 2019. “To me, I really wanted to make sure my outfit represented the Black drag queens who started this camp thing about being over the top and all that jazz.”
At the 2019 gala, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney wore a neon-yellow Vassilis Zoulias dress with a firefighter jacket she vowed to wear until the passage of her bill for 9/11 first responders.
“Anytime anyone sees me wearing the coat, I can feel it tugging on their conscience, and I can feel their remembering,” Maloney, who represents New York’s 12th congressional district, told People magazine in 2019. “And many people then have to tell me where they were on 9/11. This jacket speaks louder and more eloquently than any speech that can be given on the floor.”
The Never Forget the Heroes Act became law in July 2019.
In 2021, Maloney wore a dress made of “equal rights for women” pennants.
The multicolored dress was covered with a cape made of individual pennants that said “equal rights for women” on them. Maloney also carried a purse that said “ERA YES,” voicing support for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
In her first Met Gala appearance in 2021, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a dress with “tax the rich” written on it.
The white Brother Vellies dress was strapless and had a tulle mermaid skirt.
“Tax the rich” was written on the back in large red type.
“The medium is the message,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Instagram. “Proud to work with @aurorajames as a sustainably focused, Black woman immigrant designer who went from starting her dream @brothervellies at a flea market in Brooklyn to winning the @cfda against all odds — and then work together to kick open the doors at the Met.”
Nikkie de Jager, better known as NikkieTutorials, wore a look inspired by LGBTQ+ activist Marsha P. Johnson in 2021.
YouTuber Nikkie de Jager wore a teal, flower-adorned gown was inspired by the activist Marsha P. Johnson, she told Emma Chamberlain on the red carpet.
“She was at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots, and she was known for saying ‘Pay it no mind.’ So I’m paying it no mind,” de Jager said. “And she was known for flowers, so here I am.”
De Jager, a beauty guru with over 13 million subscribers, came out as a transgender woman in an emotional video in 2020.
Dan Levy celebrated queer love with a custom JW Anderson ensemble that referenced the artwork of AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz.
The custom outfit looked like it had a globe on the bodice at first glance, but the map formed the shape of two men kissing, which was an image adapted from Wojnarowicz’s work. Levy told Vanity Fair that he intended for the hand-embroidered, hand-beaded outfit to celebrate “queer love and queer visibility.”
“I think that has always kind of been what the Met has embodied — doing what you can do to send a message,” Levy said. “It’s not just clothes, you’re celebrating the impact that fashion can have and culture.”
Oversized sleeves, pants embroidered with a map, and black boots covered in gold embellishments and flowers completed the look.
Levy paired the outfit with Cartier jewelry.
Also in 2021, Megan Rapinoe carried a clutch emblazoned with the message “In Gay We Trust.”
Rapinoe’s red suit and blue shirt bedazzled with stars was designed by Sergio Hudson, who designed former first lady Michelle Obama’s purple suit for President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Cara Delevingne made a statement 2021 in a custom Maria Grazia for Dior look.
Delevingne’s white bib top declared “Peg the Patriarchy” in red letters.
The custom outfit was a symbol of women’s empowerment and sends a message to “stick it to the man,” Delevingne told Keke Palmer on Vogue’s livestream of the red carpet.
Sexual-pleasure coach Luna Matatas, who trademarked “Peg The Patriarchy” in 2018 as a metaphor for subverting the patriarchal system, said she wasn’t credited as the owner by Delevingne or Dior.
In 2021, Saweetie wore a Christian Cowan gown featuring two statement capes referencing the Black American flag and the Filipino flag.
The pink, one-shoulder dress had a dramatic cutout on the center of the bodice that exposed most of her torso. She said the gown had 10 million crystals on it.
The theme of the 2021 event was “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.”
“Both the flags draping are the Black American heritage flag and the Filipino flag, because I’m Black and Filipino and that’s what makes me an American girl,” she told E! News on the red carpet.
Billie Eilish only agreed to wear an Oscar de la Renta gown in 2021 after they agreed to stop making any clothing with fur.
Eilish’s peach, off-the-shoulder ball gown had a dramatic train that required five people to carry it in. She paired the dress with Cartier jewelry.
Eilish, who’s been vegan for seven years, told The New York Times’ Jessica Testa that she was “honored to have been a catalyst” at the fashion house, adding that she was shocked that “wearing fur isn’t completely outlawed at this point in 2021.”
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