Couture culture at the Met Ball

By Sharvari Johari ’17

Staff Writer

by Alexa J. Williams '14 Arts Editor

by Alexa J. Williams ’14
Arts Editor

“White Tie and Decorations” is the dress code for this year’s Met Ball. The Met Ball is an annual fundraising gala for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. At $25,000 a plate and an incredibly exclusive guest list, the Met Ball is an exciting event for designers and celebrities to show their most exciting and couture outfits for the year. While the Oscars and other awards shows are important events in the fashion world, they mostly feature demure traditional gowns. There is very rarely a flash of flare or barely even a pattern on the Oscar red carpet. However, the Met Gala features some of the most couture items of clothing the public will see.

The outfits are usually based on a theme given by the museum based on the current exhibition in the Costume Institute. They vary wildly, from “Costumes of Royal India” in 1985 to last year’s “Punk: Chaos to Couture.” The exhibit this year is “Charles James: Beyond Fashion.” Charles James was one of America’s first couturiers, despite being born in England. He resided primarily in New York and showed collections both there and in Paris. James championed the strapless dress in the 1930s. He also invented the figure-eight skirt, the puffer jacket and the Pavlovian waistband. He was a master of fabric cutting and the highly structured ball gown.

Usually the dress code takes inspiration from the collection in the exhibit. However, this year, the invitation simply read “White Tie and decorations.” White tie means extravagant ball gowns for the women and the most formal and exact attire for men. The outfit for men includes black tailcoats, matching trousers with a single stripe of satin, a white ‘pique’ stiff wing-collared shirt with stiff front, a white waistcoat, white studs and cufflinks, a white bow tie, white grey gloves, black patent shoes and black dress socks. Top hats are optional. While the term “decorations” can be loosely interpreted, most authorities in the fashion world have taken it to mean old-world decorations such as top hats or crocheted gloves.

This return to “old world elegance on the red carpet,” in the words of Vogue.com, comes from previous criticisms from committee chair and actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who wants “more exclusivity” at the event. This comment and those like it were given considerable weight this year as the ticket cost was increased by $10,000, going from $15,000 to $25,000, and an incredibly sartorial dress code.

This is probably due to last year’s theme of “Punk: Chaos to Couture,” which received a very lukewarm reception. Very few celebrities followed the theme well. A few random exceptions such as Miley Cyrus and Cara Delevigne managed to pull off a put-together punk look while traditionally successful red-carpet celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyonce made some rare stumbles. The most famous stumble was a very pregnant Kim Kardashian’s very tight floral print dress, which was criticized for neither being a beautiful piece of clothing nor to theme. Neither punk nor runway enthusiasts were pleased. However, some designers, such as Marc Jacobs, have chafed over the new rigid theme, and have described it as “not as fun” as last year’s.

In addition, this may be the push of Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who hoped that the celebrity guest list would show up in more sophisticated attire. The Gala will be held in the newly renovated Anna Wintour Costume Institute. The Institute was named after Wintour after her decades of fundraising for the gala, the museum and her influence on fashion. The event has often been Wintour’s brainchild and now officially has her name on it.

The main issue with the Gala’s theme this year is that the style of the Gala often translates to the clothing found in fast fashion retailers such as Asos or Zara. Last year’s punk theme resulted in metallic studs on many items of clothing sold in retailers like Forever 21. The 2008 theme of “Superheroes” resulted in prints of superhero logos as a fashion statement. As wonderful as the aesthetics of the Met Ball are, designers are hoping that it will result in some influence on the market. However, this dress code, theme and exhibition are not nearly for the egalitarian. Charles James reportedly once said that he felt there was not enough money in the world to buy his garments. In addition, it is unlikely that even the most likely trend, the resurgence of long dress gloves, will be feasible or popular. An influence of forties and fifties glamour, the peak of James’s career, is more likely, but how it will translate to fast fashion is unclear.

The Met Gala tends to focus on items of clothing that will probably never reach markets but do have a true form of aesthetic. Some good examples are my personal favorite designs of the night, the bright red gown by Ralph & Russo Haute Couture worn by Arizona Muse and the Zac Posen teal gown of Liu Wen. Both are examples of highly structured, couture gowns in the vein of old world glamour exemplified by Charles James. Dresses that bridged the gap between couture and ready-to-wear were the gowns of Emma Stone and Anna Kendrick, which featured a color blocking of crop top and a draped long skirt which showed some leg, with Stone’s in red and pink and Kendrick’s in black and white. While the original designs by Thakoon and Mendel are clearly runway or red carpet pieces, the color blocked silhouettes could translate easily to stores. Victoria Beckham’s dress, a design of her own, although gorgeous, was not to theme, and already seemed to be from a ready-to-wear collection. On the men’s side, most of them disappointingly ignored the tails requirement and nary a top hat was seen. However, both Kanye West and Benedict Cumberbatch followed the white tie dress code to a tee, with West in particular wearing a very well structured tailcoat.

The Met Gala is an exciting event for those who enjoy either pure fashion or celebrity culture. The fashion industry often bridges the line between true artistry or simply a market.The event is one of the truest examples of fashion as an art.

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