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MET Gala
Opinion
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

How the Met Gala turned women into immobile objects

Many celebrities needed assistants just to climb the stairs, and many others could not sit down to dinner. The most glamorous event in the world, the one that celebrates ‘fashion for fashion’s sake’, shows how we have retreated towards archaic and, at times, oppressive fashion

Gala MET
Five men helping Tyla go up the steps at the MET Gala.Noam Galai (GC Images)

The theme of this year’s fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion, interconnects two elements: the natural world with its life cycles, and the very nature of fashion, designed not to last over time. This gives its curator, Andrew Bolton, the opportunity to talk both about archival dresses and their conservation techniques, and about the relationship between botany, biology and fashion. However, the theme that the guests at the opening gala, held on Monday, were asked to follow was not exactly that, but The Garden of Time, based on a 1962 story by J. G. Ballard in which a couple of counts watch life pass pleasantly from their mansion, a kind of private Arcadia, until they glimpse a human mass approaching on the horizon. If they cut the flowers, the mass recedes, until there are no flowers left to cut.

The story, like most of Ballard’s, lends itself to multiple interpretations, although none of them are glamorous. It is also paradoxical that this was the dress code of a gala that was threatened by a protest by the union representing workers at Condé Nast, organizer of the event, asking for fair working conditions; the demonstration was called off at the last minute (for as yet unknown reasons). The steps of the Met were once again that Arcadia far removed from the real world and accessible only to a few: the companies and brands that paid five figures for a table (this is a charity event to raise funds for the museum) and the celebrities who accompanied them at these tables. The protests involving Columbia and Rafah need not even be mentioned here, to give more substance to Ballard’s story.

In any case, although this gala began to be held in 1948, it has acquired global and viral notoriety over the past decade or so. Guests are now asked to stick more or less to the theme and, above all, to the idea of fashion for fashion’s sake, to give free rein to their imagination and to come in the most extravagant outfit possible. Without going into whether bringing flowers and nymphs was taking the instructions too literally, the truth is that several of the guests at the event, in fact too many of them, required help from several people just to walk and climb the stairs; over half of them, in a conservative estimate, were not wearing outfits in which they could actually sit down to dinner. In that sense they stuck, although in a somewhat disturbing way, to the theme of the exhibition itself, which shows archival dresses that, due to conservation conditions, can no longer be worn.

Cardi B needed eight assistants to walk in her voluminous Widowsen dress. Tyla had several people carry her up the stairs because her dress, made of sand stuck to her body, prevented her from moving (later its creator, Olivier Rousteing, had the decency to cut it off to that she could enjoy the party). Elle Fanning had to climb sideways with help from two assistants because her transparent dress, also by Balmain, was too tight. Kim Kardashian couldn’t breathe with her corset and also needed help, although in her case this has been a trend for three years (with Marilyn’s dress or with that impossible Mugler corset). Gigi Hadid also needed assistance, although her Thom Browne dress was designed to be disassembled, that is to say, it was more or less functional once she cleared the stairs. Nicki Minaj in her mini-dress and Sarah Jessica Parker in her birdcage affair could not even sit down, nor could Taylor Russel with her resin corset that imitated wood. In that sense, it was better to be dressed like Emily Ratajkowski, Dua Lipa or Doja Cat, that is, practically naked, but at least with almost full mobility, if the fashion for fashion’s sake translates, in 2024, into the female immobility of the 18th and 19th centuries, with those corsets and crinolines that forced them to stand still.

Naturally it was not their fault. The popular saying that ‘everyone wears whatever they want’ is not true, especially not in this case. Not so long ago, there was a controversy known as Shoe-gate at the Cannes Film Festival because women were being forced to wear high heels: “You can’t ask that of women anymore. If you don’t ask men to wear heels and a dress, you can’t ask me either,” said Kristen Stewart when she decided to take them off in 2019 during the festival, in full view of the whole world. Very few women actually wear what they want, either because of the social insecurity it causes (it doesn’t fit well, it’s not appropriate for your age, and so on) or because what they need does not exist, that is, clothes with pockets, adjustable waists, a variety of lengths and sizes. Until recently, in fact, many parades were driven by this objectification based on corsets, unreal volumes, solid materials and garments made with just a few inches of fabric.

And if women don’t really wear what they want, much less so celebrities, who live in a constant state of insecurity, somewhere between the meme, the critical comment and the eternal comparison with what their colleagues are wearing; at least, the younger ones. Many older celebrities grew up professionally attending award ceremonies that did not reward glamour as much as now (even the Oscars were something else) and, above all, they were lucky enough to not be exposed on social media: they were already exposed enough by the mere fact of being a celebrity. These days, however, we are so used to judging outfits that celebrity stylists have become the real stars, which would not a bad thing at all, on the contrary, if it were not for the fact that in some cases the obsession with the outfit reaches surreal limits: it’s not just that Zendaya couldn’t sit or move in that Mugler armor at the premiere of Dune: Part Two or that Anya Taylor Joy needed assistance to interact with that Rabanne chain link dress full of arrows. It’s scary to imagine what the process was like, or the pressure on the people involved to get those pieces from 50 or 60 years ago that, before all this circus, were catwalk and museum pieces, not outfits to use on real mannequins to earn media exposure.

In reality, the (hundreds of) hours invested in each Met Gala dress and the final use of some of them (i.e. none) brings these outfits closer to museum status than celebrity status. In such a scenario, how are celebrities going to decide to wear dresses and not feel that it’s the dress that is wearing them? There is an extravagant, original and ingenious fashion that does not require wearers to seek assistance, but it seems that this type of fashion is not so attention-grabbing. What really grabs attention is to look so beautiful that it is difficult for you to even breathe on your own, so that social media and everyone involved in this industry can breathe easy. Perhaps in the end the theme of the Met exhibition was respected: unfortunately, sometimes the passage of time does not affect fashion, which remains that private Arcadia that does not want the outside world to come near it.

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