The Met Gala 2022 | Historical Context, Best Dressed and Hidden meanings

Monday was of course the 1st of May and with that comes the event of the season, the Met Gala. Hosted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, it is a charitable event to raise money for the costume institute. Unlike previous years, this was a two part event with the first one being held on September 18th 2021. Part one was ‘America: A lexicon of Fashion’ and the recent gala expanded on this theme with ‘In America: An Anthology of Fashion’, with ‘Gilded Glamour’ being the primary focus. Of course, with any Met Gala theme, there are those who hit the mark and those who were nowhere near being close to it.

In todays blog post I am going to showcase what is meant by the ‘Gilded age’, who’s looks really surpassed expectations, and those who may have been better than first thought.

The Gilded Age

I am not going to lie, when I first heard of the ‘Gilded Age’ I instantly knew what people were going to go with: Jewels, embellishments, gold, metals etc. Which is a literal perspective of the theme but one which is all the same, completely wrong. Then on the other hand, I could guarantee you that there were going to be flapper inspired dresses (ahem… Emma Stone) from the 1920s, which was again, not on theme. So what is the Gilded Age? Let me explain…

It is a time period generally considered as the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, after the American Civil War and just before World War I began. Notably, it was a huge period of growth and industrialisation, particularly in New York. However, not everything was prosperous, the wealthy (bankers, industrialists and politicians) became increasingly greedy at the expense of the working class. It shifted social classes and the disparity present in the working world was at a new extreme. The shift meant that these tycoons had more money and power than the politicians.

In 1869 the transcontinental rail road was finished and travel was made more efficient by the railways. Yet, with this boom the need for workmen was at an all time high so millions of immigrants and farmers fled to large cities in America seeking work and financial freedom. These cities were not built to sustain the massive influx of people and therefore slums and overcrowded tenements created unliveable conditions.

In terms of fashion, women dressed to impress so they could flaunt their wealth and reaffirm their position in society. The more ruffles, lace, bows and adornments were a symbol of notoriety. Jewel tones, and bustles were all the rage as women’s clothing became very flamboyant.

Men’s clothes on the other hand featured multiple-piece suits, top hats and into the 1880’s their clothes became less tailored with long tailed coats being a staple.

Men’s Fashion at the Met Gala

The men’s fashion at the Met Gala took me by surprise; far too often I am used to seeing conventional black suits with very little creativity instilled in the design. Yes they are well made and I would never take that away from the skilled workers that devote hours to making them, however that is not to say it does not get repetitive.

This year however, I would say that a lot of the men did better than the women. There were a lot on theme and and some great outfits that referenced the immigrants that built the gilded age. Shawn Mendes (as seen on the left) provided one of my favourite outfits with a Tommy Hilfiger ensemble – a ‘consciously crafted pea coat with gold charmeuse lining and a woolen tuxedo’ – the sustainable foundation with which this outfit was made brings the clothes into the 21st century and is a much needed reminder that wearing recycled clothes/fabrics can look great. In terms of the theme, I believe Shawn hit the nail on the head with the layered look and less fitted jacket. The only thing that could have made it more apt for the Gilded age was a top hat and it can be argued it leant more on the Victorian side of things, but in saying that I loved it.

I’ve picked out some of my favourite looks from the men that graced the carpet on Monday.

Stormzy – dressed in a three piece Burberry suit, this white ensemble really popped on the stairs of the Met. Melissa Holdbrook-Akposoe (his stylist) in a GQ article on the Met emphasised the cultural importance of Stromzy attending his first Met, in that it gave her and his team the wider recognition they deserve. The addition of a cape and of course the white suit meant the theme of ‘white-tie’ was well and truly met.

Riz Ahmed really stole the show for me in his 4S Designs ‘working outfit’ in recognition of the immigrants who created and upheld the Gilded era in shameful conditions. He shone a light on the ironic nature of such an event and brought it back to the not so glitzy reality of such a time. He wore a silk shirt and undershirt with a Cartier chain and ‘workers’ boots. The look was incorrectly classed as Prada, whereas 4S DESIGNS is an immigrant founded brand and although the Cariter necklace doesn’t fit with the worker sentiment it is inspired by those found in India.

Joe Jonas – not someone I necessarily expected to add to my list of best dressed but I really appreciate the spin of the theme in the lace tail coat, the ruffled texture of the lace and the white tie jacket. He has combined the feminine aspect of the Gilded age with the men’s look all while keeping his pop/rock exterior. The Louis Vuitton look has me won over and to top it all off it is a reworn sustainable look from the Nicolas Ghesquiere’s women’s collection. Hats off to you!

Evan Mock went in a custom Head of State corset suit (it was Taofeek Abijako’s first time designing for the Met Gala), styled by Taylor Okata who was inspired by the Gilded Age’s corsets, shirtwaists, tuxedos and for a surprise a ‘cheeky’ modern twist on the cleavage exposed in most dresses of the time, they made a cut out in the top of Mock’s trousers at the back. I loved this 21st century representation of some of the key aspects of fashion during the Gilded Age, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea but this was one of my favourite looks of the night.

Questlove wanted to pay homage to the ‘Black women who have sacrificed for their country’ in his look which was made up of a quilt from ‘Gee’s Bend Quilters’, a small black community in Alabama who have created ‘masterpieces’ for decades, who collaborated with designer Greg Lauren (he also wore Zegna as part of his look). Questlove’s concept was not only extremely important, and like Ahmed’s look, really brought the event back to reality, it also drew on the cape like structure of men’s outer coats at the time. 10/10 loved Questlove’s look.

As you can tell, the men really pulled it out the bag and these were only some of the fantastic looks that graced the carpet. I must admit I was disappointed with Jared Leto, Jack Harlow, Anderson. Paak (who I love but I’m not sure what Gucci were getting at) and Austin Butler (to name a few). That is not to say they didn’t look great, it would just be nice to see some creativity sprinkled in alongside something that does not resemble a black suit or something off topic.

What was your favourite look from the men at the 2022 Met Gala?

Women’s Fashion at the Met Gala

As I have previously discussed, women used ruffles, lace, jewel tones and bows to showcase wealth during the Gilded era so in that sense they had a lot of scope to create some visual masterpieces. Most notably, I think like everyone else on the planet, Blake Lively (one of the co-chairs of the evening) surpassed expectations with a fantastic reversible dress by Versace that was an ode to the Statute of Liberty (see left). Not only that, but the tone of the dress changed from copper to blue to highlight the change of the statue’s colouring over time, her crown has 7 points like Lady Liberty, and the constellation found on the ceiling in Grand Central Station was mimicked on the bottom of her dress. It was an all round masterpiece and of course was on theme as the statue opened to the public in 1886.

Unlike the men, I believe the women who stumble on the Met Gala carpet are scrutinised to another degree. Every inch, nail, face, ‘costume’ is torn apart in the press and thus, perfection is almost always strived for. But we all know that does not exist and like the men, not all of the looks hit the mark. Fashion, like any art, can be scrutinised and criticised however anything more than that can be left at the door, so here is your reminder to leave any body shaming out with the four walls of my website (and preferably anywhere else).

Billie Eilish was probably one of the only women who I can safely say stuck true to the theme. Eilish wore an up cycled Gucci look and had the bustle, corset and lace down to a fine art. Personally, it was not my favourite look of the night but in terms of theme I would give her the top prize.

Cynthia Erivo donned a look by Louis Vuitton (another recycled dress) from the Cruise 2018 collection with a custom headpiece which was crafted from material cut-offs. Erivo payed homage to the ‘women that went before her’ as she tries to tie ‘the American lexicon together, and this is inspired by women of Louisiana from the 1800s, who had to cover their hair for necessity… I wanted to tie those things together because those women don’t get the credit they deserve for the fashion.” (from an interview with Erivo in Extra). The lace, ruffles and texture all align perfectly with the period, all while keeping up with the certain edge you get with Louis Vuitton.

Kendall Jenner on the other hand wore a Prada double silk satin skirt with hand-pleated ruche details alongside a black tulle top with a net embroidered overlay. I gasped when I saw Kendall, she looked phenomenal and when you ignore the top, I thought it was perfect for the Gilded age. The skirt alone is breathtaking, you’ve got the ruching on the skirt with a long train mirroring the bustle. Just like the Gilded era, it was big and it was covered in detail. The top on the other hand let it down in terms of the theme but I can understand the designer wanting to do something different. Either way, she was the best dressed Kardashian at the event in my opinion.

Tessa Thompson stunned everyone with this rather large pink gown from Caroline Herrera which was made up of over 200 meters of gathered tulle. The corset aspect of the top of the dress emulates the time period as well as the layered ruffles while giving it a contemporary twist. A 10/10 collaboration and one that no one could miss at the event!

Finally, Nicola Coughlan wore a custom Richard Quinn gown that channeled her inner Bridgerton. With the puffed sleeves, corset bodice, large skirt, and the lengthy cape, Coughlan hit the theme with a twist. In her Vogue interview on the Met steps it really sounded like Coughlan and the Richard Quinn team have created a long lasting relationship and that is not a surprise when you see what they pulled off together!

The women’s looks that jumped out to me were few and far between and I am disappointed that so many didn’t fully take on the layered, extravagant nature of the Gilded age. But those that did looked fantastic while doing it. Who was your favourite?

More than Meets the Eye

Now we all know there are several looks on the Met gala steps that just don’t make sense, and this year there were definitely more than a few of them. However, I was surprised by how many secretly had surprises attached to them or lovely sentiments. Here, I am explaining the good, the bad and the ugly. Will it change your mind? Possibly!

First up is Kylie Jenner’s white ‘wedding’ dress from Off-White or what I’d like to call the ‘ball bride’ seeing as she looks like a baseball stars wife. Yes, this is definitely one of the looks I was very confused by and not the biggest fan of. It does have layered tulle like Tessa Thompson’s look but I can honestly say that is probably the only thing on theme. Nevertheless, the sentiment outweighs the occasion as this was one of the final garments Virgil Abloh designed before his passing and Kylie wore it as a testament to his legacy. Does this change your mind? It definitely made me reconsider it.

Sarah Jessica Parker’s look was one I didn’t give the time of day and in that respect I think I made a mistake. The gingham black and white gown was more on theme than I first thought with her channeling the infamous tuxedo look in the classic silhouette of dresses at the time. I disregarded her look at first because of the hat and the fabric however once I had completed more research I found that she was inspired by Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, an enslaved woman who became the official dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln, and the first Black female fashion designer in the White House.

The dress was designed by Christopher John Rogers and featured a corset-style top, off-shoulder sleeves and a billowing skirt. Now I want to give Miss Sarah Jessica Parker an honorary invitation to my best dressed list.

Gabrielle Union was another stunning addition to the Met Gala lineup however on first inspection I thought her look completely missed the mark. It fit more of the 1920’s glamour than the Gilded Age and I was disappointed in the overall look. She wore a Versace sequin gown with a long white train and a bright red flower sitting on her hip.

Although I would not add her to the best dressed list in terms of being on theme I did find out a surprising (and welcome) addition to her outfit in that the flower (adorned with red crystals) represented the blood spilled during the increase in wealth by the few during the Gilded Age, off of the backs of Black people and POC.

Yet again, another celebrity brought a dose of reality to the carpet, dedicating her dress to the unnamed who did not benefit from this rise in wealth and notoriety during the Gilded Age. I do find it slightly ironic that this was done with crystals but at least the message was there. Do you agree?

With the glitz and glamour of the Met Gala finished for another year, there has definitely been a fair share of commentary on the designers choices. Do we think this Gala hit the mark or did it fall short?

I have loved researching the concepts and designers and could probably create a whole other blog post on the flapper inspired dresses and Kim Kardashian’s Marilyn Monroe moment but alas, it is probably better that it is left to rest.

Let’s see if the next Met encourages more designers and celebrities to do their research properly rather than clutching at straws. Either way I am already excited to see what they come up with.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Much love,


Sources Used/Consulted

Vogue Best Dressed Stars at the 2022 Met Gala, click here.

Harper Bazaar’s The 2022 Met Gala: The 10 best dressed, click here.

Insider, 7 Celebrities Paid Tribute to Marginalized Groups, click here.

SoulGrown, Questlove shines a light on Alabama Women at 2022 Met Gala, click here.

Fashion History Timeline, 1880-1889, click here.

Vogue, Gilded Age Fashion, as Seen Through the Covers of Vogue, click here.

GQ, the Story Behind Stormzy’s Ecclesiastical Met Gala Fit, click here.

The Cut, Riz Ahmed Pushes Back on 2022 Met Gala’s Gilded Age Theme, click here.

Victoriana Magazine, How to Dress Victorian | Victorian Men in the 1800’s, click here.

Museum of the City of New York, Getting Dressed: Gilded Age Afternoon Dress, click here.

Instagram accounts of all the designers and celebrities were consulted in the breakdown of their Met Gala Looks as well as the Vogue Interviews from the Met, available here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s