The night our celebrities wore their politics on their sleeves, their capes, or their clutches

Published September 16, 2021, 11:00 AM

by AA Patawaran

You can see and feel everything in clothes, but what did you see and feel at this year’s Met gala?

WOMAN OF POWER Cara Delevingne in a white power suit that bore the phrase ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ by Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri (Angela Weiss)

The Met gala, “fashion’s biggest nightout,” early this week made a bold political statement under a theme celebrating all things American in fashion. Or at least tried to.

The celebrities went up the grand staircase of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, carrying their favorite causes on their sleeves or their capes or their clutches. From Carolyn B. Maloney’s “Equal Rights for Women,” Megan Rapinoe’s “In Gay We Trust,” and Cara Delevingne’s “Peg the Patriarchy” to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich,” no particular political sentiment, however, hit the bull’s eye, except the statement that maybe activism was back on trend, as hot for spring/summer 2021 as the checkerboard patchwork dresses at Dolce & Gabbana or those floaty maxi-dresses at Michael Kors.

Now will the real Woke-Lords of this generation please stand up from your armchair and strut your political woes in Dior?

Not to say that social commentary or a political stance is off-limits to celebrities. We’re no stranger to Bono’s massive campaign for Africa and his humanitarian work, which have earned him a slot on the cover of Time’s Persons of the Year, a knighthood from the UK bestowed upon him by Queen Elizabeth II, and the title Commandeur of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Beyond donating to his chosen causes, Ben Affleck would go as far as addressing Congress in the interest of global issues for which he sought attention. And then there’s Charlize Theron and her eponymous Africa Outreach Project, which collaborates with community organizations on HIV/AIDS awareness and actions. Of course, there is Angelina Jolie, whom we all love because, bigger than Angelina Jolie, she is a champion of the poor, wildlife, and natural resources. And before her, there was Audrey Hepburn, a Hall-of-Famer on the International Best Dressed List and a former UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, in recognition of which and her work with some of the poorest communities in Asia, Africa, and South America she was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

THE LADIES CAME TO FIGHT Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (left) in her statement dress ‘Tax The Rich’ with fashion designer Aurora James, responsible for the US congresswoman’s outfit

If you’re expecting a Who Wore It Best or Who Wore It Worst critique, I think that’s passé, even as Sex and the City is gunning to stretch the SATC moment to remain in fashion, minus Kim Catrall a.k.a Samantha. The fashion nitpickers have retired. Even Perez Hilton is tired of bashing celebrities, of which he made a killing just a decade ago. His last tweet, as of this writing, shared a harrowing piece in The Times about an Afghan confessing he had to sell his daughter in Kabul because “my family is starving.”

Now will the real Woke-Lords of this generation please stand up from your armchair and strut your political woes in Dior?

We live in times so interesting that it’s a wonder some of us have time to fuss over the shift to straight-leg denims now that the skinny jean is dead or how thick our shoulder pads should be now that spikes on the shoulder as in the ‘80s are turning heads again.

FASHION THEN Diana Vreeland (woman with the cigarette) as special consultant at the Met for the Costume Institute in 1972
She had just left her position as editor-in-chief for Vogue

The truth is fashion, as Miranda Priestly would have it in The Devil Wears Prada, is too inextricably linked to being human nowadays to be shrugged off, let alone scoffed at, even by the anti-fashion crowd. Remember what the Meryl Streep character said when the protagonist, Anne Hathaway’s Andy Sachs, dismissively referred to clothes as “stuff”? This is what Miranda said: “It’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”

Be that as it may, how important is fashion in a world still in fear of how much worse this hell of a partypooper, the great COVID-19 pandemic, can get? How essential is the way we wear in a world bracing for the full impact of climate change? How often must we update our wardrobes at a time a child under 15 years of age dies every five seconds around the world due to extreme poverty, according to mortality estimates released in 2018 by WHO, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Division, and the World Bank Group.

The answer, as the headturners at the Met gala seem to suggest, is dress up your politics. Better yet, wear it. Put on your morals like eye candy or a dirty finger up because people nowadays are more interested in what you stand for.

I’m not sure Diana Vreeland would agree. The Met gala, known back then as the Met ball, started way back in 1959, but it took Vreeland, two years after she was unceremoniously fired at the American Vogue in 1971, to turn it into a party everyone would want an invitation to and dress up for soon after she took the helm of the Costume Institute as a special consultant. The Met gala, in case you are blinded enough by the glitz and glamour, was originally conceived to raise funds for the Costume Institute.

I have no intention whatsoever to downgrade the importance of fashion even beyond its practical purposes. “You can see and feel everything in clothes,” one of Vreeland’s many immortal famous aphorisms point out. “You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes,” she said.

So do the political statements brandished about at the Met gala augur in a time of change in the mindset of this current generation? Is there a revolution on the horizon calling for all nations to collectivize the farms, to end poverty once and for all, to pay women as much as men are being paid for the same work, to make “them” an official pronoun, to make richer nations pay more for the consequences of man-made climate change that impacts the poorer nations more adversely?

DARKER THAN BLACK Kim Kardashian in an all-black Balenciaga ensemble

Yes, maybe.

It’s either that or fashion is now showing how easily we can let off steam by paying lip  service—or heel service or waist service or cleavage service—to causes needed to make this world less unjust, less cruel, less abusive, less negligent of things that matter.

Now that we can wear our politics like a dress, just as we can easily air our grievances on social media, maybe the energy is dissipated.

With all that energy spent over Lazarus Lynch’s collard greens hot chow served on coconut buttermilk cornbread, Simone Tong’s watermelon tart with smoked yuzu soy on a panipuri cracker, and many other special concoctions cooked up by eight other hot New York chefs who were commissioned to do the Met gala dinner last Monday, Sept. 13, there is none left to get us out on the streets, arms raised, hands clenched into a fist, voices at their highest pitch calling for justice and freedom and equality, as they did during the French Revolution or the Bolshevik Coup or even Woodstock.

And anyway, mass gathering is discouraged now.