The Best Statement Fashion at the 2021 Met Gala Spoke For Itself

Last night’s Met Gala was larger than life. Perhaps it’s because the original plan was to host an intimate gathering that would feel safe in the face of a continuing pandemic, or it could simply be that after a year and some change of little to no in-person events, fashion’s biggest night back in real life felt even bigger. Either way, the night’s red carpet seemed to stretch into infinity, starting at 5:30 pm on the front steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and running until just around 10:30 pm, when Rihanna and ASAP Rocky made their grand entrance.

Plans for the small gathering seemed to have been scrapped, as photo wires show just about the same amount of celebs walking the red carpet as did in, say, 2019 (though seating for the dinner was apparently cut by a third to allow for social distancing). Just as it seemed with the preceding New York Fashion Week, the Met Gala evening was buzzing with anticipation. And everyone was eager to make a statement.

The most talked-about moments currently circulating have to do with the outright political and social statements, worn by the politicians and activists who attended last night’s gala. They were literal words, scrawled across a gown or a top, or etched into a clutch. Aurora James paired up with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to create a custom Brother Vellies gown in white (a new foray into clothing) that read “Tax the Rich” in a jaunty red font. (The frock is gathering even more momentum as a meme comparing it to the packaging of Chick-Fil-A.)

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with Aurora James in a custom Brother Vellies gown.

“Make no mistake, we the people hold the power. And as our culture pushes forward, politics too will have to follow,” wrote James in her Instagram caption documenting the look she created for AOC.

Ocasio-Cortez was joined by fellow politician, congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, whose colorful gown read “Equal Rights For Women,” accessorized with a clutch that read “ERA Yes.”

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Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney at the Met Gala.

Model and actress Cara Delevingne added to the statements in a white Christian Dior ensemble comprised of a cream trousers and platform heels paired with a bib top that read “Peg the Patriarchy.” Athlete Megan Rapinoe paired her red, white and blue Sergio Hudson pantsuit and shirt (and slick red Giuseppe Zanotti platform boots) with an Edie Parker blue acrylic clutch that read “America” on one side and “In Gay We Trust” on the other. Poet Amanda Gorman also carried an Edie Parker statement clutch, hers fittingly done in the shape of a book, with “Give Us Your Tired” etched in a blue that matched her Lady Liberty-esque tulle and crystal Vera Wang gown.

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Cara Delevingne in Christian Dior.

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Megan Rapinoe in a Sergio Hudson suit, Giuseppe Zanotti platform boots and an Edie Parker clutch.
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Amanda Gorman in a Vera Wang gown and Edie Parker clutch.

But there were plenty of other statements made at last night’s Met Gala, and they didn’t need words to convey their impact. Met Gala co-chair Billie Eilish appeared on the carpet in breathtaking pink tulle Oscar de la Renta gown with a train that ran down the steps. She only agreed to wear the brand if they stopped using fur — which they did. “It was an honor to wear this dress knowing that going forward Oscar de la Renta will be completely fur-free!!!!” the singer wrote in an Instagram post after the event. “(They) have now made a change that makes an impact for the greater good, not only for animals but also for our planet and environment too. I’m honored to have been a catalyst and to have been heard on this matter. I urge all designers to do the same.”

Billie Eilish attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the "In America: A Lexicon of Fashion" exhibition on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Billie Eilish in Oscar de la Renta.
CREDIT: Invision

The representation of both Black designers and Black celebrities on the carpet was its own statement, from first lady couturier Sergio Hudson’s pantsuits and sparkling gowns, plus feathered frocks from Aliétte. Lewis Hamilton bought an entire table at the gala to support Black creatives and athletes, inviting designers Kenneth Nicholson (whose suiting he wore), Jason Rembert and Theophilio’s Edvin Thompson, along with stylist Law Roach, Kehlani, Sha’Carri Richardson, model Alton Mason and fencer Miles Chamley-Watson.

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Lewis Hamilton in a Kenneth Nicholson suit and Khiry jewelry.
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Whoopi Goldberg with Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli in Valentino couture.

To see Whoopi Goldberg on the steps of the Met in a royal purple Valentino couture gown felt a bit like spotting the queen make her entrance. So was the same, of course, in seeing Rihanna — the Met Gala’s own unofficial queen — wearing Balenciaga couture with ASAP Rocky at her side.

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Indya Moore in Saint Laurent.
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Elliott Page in Balenciaga couture.

Queer representation was all around. While Billy Porter’s 2019 appearance at the Met Gala was campy — that was the theme for that year, after all — to see Valentina Sampaio, Indya Moore and Leyna Bloom in their own interpretations of glamour felt more like acceptance of transgender identity than caricature. Elliot Page wore a sleek Balenciaga suit. Troye Sivan was the epitome of Gen Z gender-fluid confidence, in a black gown by Altu (Joseph Altuzarra’s new gender-fluid line) and a diamond Cartier necklace. Lil Nas X continued his tour of gender-pushing glamour in a series of Versace ensembles.

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Troye Sivan in Altu and Cartier jewelry.
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Lil Nas X in Versace.

Even for cisgender men, embracing femininity and raw sexuality felt cool. Pete Davidson wore a dress under his Thom Browne jacket. Shawn Mendes seemed to really be enjoying himself in a shirtless Michael Kors leather look that was adorned with two silver studded belts and and necklaces (he also looked at ease in his white Mans suit at the VMAs the night before, and his collection of sheer shirts are now a thing).

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Shawn Mendes in Michael Kors.
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Pete Davidson in Thom Browne.

The statement of traditional American fashion was a bit murkier, with some donning red, white and blue (Russell Westbrook bleached white stars into his hair; Rapinoe also donned stars). There were some more nuanced showings, such as Leon Bridges in a fringed Western look by Emily Adams Bode that nodded to the singer’s Texas roots, or Lupita Nyong’o’s custom denim Versace gown, which pointed back to both the Americana of denim as well as the Italian brand’s own denim moments through its history.

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Lupita Nyong’o in Versace.
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Helen Lasichanh and Pharrell Williams in matching Chanel Western looks.

Some made a statement by not being there. While Marc Jacobs had archival pieces in the actual exhibition, he skipped the event (and New York Fashion Week, for that matter), staying put in Europe after judging the LVMH Prize for Young Designers a week ago. “Sad to miss the Met, but, couldn’t be happier with my dates tonight,” he wrote in an Instagram post that showcased his famous dates of years past.

For all of the talk about who gets to be American inside of the actual exhibition (which opens September 18 and runs through May 5), it was disappointing to see a lack of Native American representation on the carpet, though designer and stylist Tabitha Simmons did outfit model Quannah Chasinghorse in Navajo jewelry by Arizona designer Jocelyn Billy-Upshaw (her dress was Dundas). Perhaps part two of the exhibition — which will also have part two of the gala — will delve more thoroughly into this question and all of the history to support it.

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