The Met Costume Institute’s 2021-2022 two-part theme, ‘In America: A Lexicon of Fashion’ and ‘In America: An Anthology of Fashion,’ is an examination of the American identity at a turbulent time in US history. “Fashion is both a harbinger of cultural shifts and a record of the forces, beliefs, and events that shape our lives,” said Max Hollein, the Marina Kellen French Director of The Met. “This two-part exhibition considers how fashion reflects evolving notions of identity in America.” The exhibition commemorates American designers, acknowledges the cultural, political and social events that have occurred during the pandemic and celebrates inclusivity in fashion—offering an apt snapshot of the current cultural climate.
In America: A Lexicon of Fashion
Sep 22, 2021
This year’s Met Costume Institute exhibition is a reflection of the current state of culture: anchored in activism, informed by technology and led by gen Z.
The Met Gala, which officially opens the Costume Institute exhibition, was hosted by four gen Z cultural kingpins who espouse the generation’s key values: Timothée Chalamet, who is known for his gender-fluid fashion; Billie Eilish, who has spoken publicly about her struggles with depression, body dysmorphia and Tourette syndrome; Amanda Gorman, an activist and the first National Youth Poet Laureate; and Naomi Osaka, who was named one of Time’s Most Influential People of 2021 after withdrawing from the French Open to tend to her mental health.
The four hosts represent the new guard in fashion—one that is increasingly led by values.
Rooted in values
The exhibition—which the Guardian called “the most politically charged fashion exhibition ever staged by a major museum”—celebrates diversity and takes a lens to the controversy of American identity. Nearly half of the exhibits are by designers of color, the highest percentage of any Costume Institute ensemble show. One garment features a sash with the question “Who gets to be American?” from a 2019 catwalk show by the designer Prabal Gurung, who is of Nepalese heritage.
“The approach of this exhibition very much came out of the Black Lives Matter movement,” said the curator Andrew Bolton. “American fashion is undergoing a renaissance that is being driven by engagement with political and social issues. Young fashion designers in America, as in Britain, are at the forefront of conversations about inclusivity around race and gender and the body. When you talk to them about their ambitions, it’s not about jobs at the big European houses or being the next Ralph Lauren or Diane Von Furstenberg. They approach fashion in an ethical way which is rooted in values and community.”
In keeping with the theme, Billie Eilish used the Met Gala as a platform to affect real change by convincing Oscar de la Renta to stop using fur. Other Met Gala attendees took the opportunity to make similar statements: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a gown emblazoned with the phrase “tax the rich,” and many sported creations by Black, Indigenous or underrepresented American designers.
Social media heavily influences this year’s exhibition. The exhibit is co-sponsored by Instagram and has many Instagram-esque elements. The garments are displayed against a backdrop of stark white squares, calling to mind an Instagram grid. Above each mannequin is a box with a single word (relating to the theme, In American: A Lexicon of Fashion), much like a tag. The Met also plans to release select designer items for purchase on Instagram as part of the exhibition.
Main image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art