Story by Charlotte Dekle
Illustration by Allison Lee
The 2021 Met Gala theme was American Independence, opening for a gallery exhibit called In America: A Lexicon of Fashion. The rather robust theme led to vaguely patriotic fashion choices. Themes for the ball are always relatively abstract but one would safely assume that ‘American Independence’ would carry a connotation of something obviously American. Instead, American Independence was a showcase of sartorial statements to varying degrees of success.
On one side of the political claim spectrum is the English model Cara Delevigne. Her attendance was marked by a pithy slogan on her pantsuit — ‘Peg The Patriarchy.’ Delevigne is not a politician, though she is highly political in her fight for feminism. Delevigne’s Met fashion statements are surface-level and seem rather performative. The creator of the ‘Peg The Patriarchy’ slogan, Luna Matatas (whom Delevigne did not pay credit to), objected to Delevigne’s interpretation of the words.
“It’s about women empowerment, gender equality — it’s a bit like, ‘Stick it to the man,’” Delevingne told Keke Palmer, a Vogue correspondent, during the event.
Matatas argued that Delevigne mischaracterized the expression. As she wrote on Instagram in July 2021, “‘Peg the Patriarchy’ is about subversion. Subverting a system of oppression that impacts all genders and is upheld by the behaviours and ideas of [white] colonial masculinity.”
Delevigne repackaging and then parroting the repackaged quote as an exclusively feminine cry is just another mischaracterized analysis of a more trenchant political and social issue. Female empowerment and equality and subversion are two different political topics that, while similar, should not be conflated. If hit-or-miss fashion political takes are ubiquitous with Americana, then the Met Gala this year was star-spangled.
But more in the Cara Delevigne vein, Zoe Kravitz and Kendall Jenner both wore sheer, underwear-like clothing and incurred debate on whether or not it is to attract the male gaze or a facet of the weaponization of sexuality. While one could also potentially argue that it is more freeing and comfortable to just wear beaded undergarments under a transparent fabric. Sheer clothing, even though it may attract misogynistic vitriol, is not inherently feminist. Similarly, the arguments of male gaze attraction and weaponization have been interpreted interchangeably. Women should be allowed to wear what they want without commentary.
Where Kravitz and Jenner differ from Delevigne however, is what the clothes represent. Delevigne’s ‘Peg The Patriarchy’ jumpsuit has a political statement plastered on it. While Kravitz and Jenner’s statements are their bodies, and the revealing nature of their clothes. Delevigne has a more blatant and outward declaration that is tailor-made for division. Kravitz and Jenner’s sheer clothes create debate with just their bodies, further exemplifying how women’s anatomy is still a subject of debate.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s $30,000 ‘Tax The Rich’ dress made headlines due to the supposed hypocrisy of that very statement. Some argue that Ocasio-Cortez rubbing shoulders with the quorum of one-percenters, A-listers, and Kardashians while wearing the emblazoned dress was hypocritical.
“The time is now for childcare, healthcare, and climate action for all. Tax the Rich,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in defense of her dress.
However, her track record in ‘taxing the rich’ policies beg to differ. Is it hypocritical if her stance on taxation has been cohesive and clear? AOC’s ‘Green New Deal’ proposal includes taxing the wealthy 60-70% hence the climate action claim above. The day of the Met Gala, House Democrats unveiled a proposal to increase taxes on corporations with more than $5 million in annual revenue. In addition, the congresswoman did not pay for her Met Gala ticket nor her dress. Thus, hatred aimed at AOC for lavish spending being in contradiction to her statements is not that simple. Her political outfit may attract hate, but at least she has the political history to back up her claim.
United States Representative Carolyn Maloney’s Suffragette-themed dress sparked attention for political statements advocating for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. While similar to AOC’s frock, Maloney took to Twitter for a call to action in relation to her dress.
“As the Met Costume Institute reopens w/ their inaugural exhibit celebrating American designers, I am calling 4 the certification of the ERA so women can be equal once and for all,” Maloney wrote on Twitter.
Maloney is the chief House sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment so, like AOC, her political statement is backed up by actual decisions and not just performance. On the red carpet, pantheons of political performers flaunt their so-called activism without real credit or change (see above). Maloney and Ocasio-Cortez have used their political stature for political change. Maloney is no stranger to political Met fashion statements. In 2019, Maloney wore a neon dress with a firefighter’s jacket which she vowed to wear until the 911 first-responders bill was passed. Lo and behold, the ‘Never Forget The Heroes’ act passed in 2019.
While both sides contain emblazoned slogans, the politician’s job is to spread awareness of various political and social topics. Non-political celebrities repackage pre-existing political scripture into a mischaracterized expression or faux-activism.
The underlying confusion of these political statements begs the question of what exactly the frocks are supposed to accomplish. The Congresswoman and Representative’s costumes have legitimate political beliefs behind the dresses and have political influence that could lead to ERA ratification or taxation of the rich. It remains to be seen what effects ‘Peg The Patriarchy’ will have on society as a whole. The fact is Ocasio-Cortez and Maloney’s political statements have legislative history behind them and that’s the key difference between them and Delevigne, Kravitz, and Jenner. The latter three have large platforms that are rarely used to back a specific cause other than, in Delevigne’s case, a stolen feminist brand.
While political statements exist everywhere, the Met Gala is watched by the entire country and has a high concentration of celebrities with political slogans. This means that all eyes are on these statements in a way that is different from normal messaging. As long as the celebrities incorporate their Met Gala getups with political activism, then the statements are not performative. The performative and stolen fashion statements of Delevigne, Kravitz, and Jenner, however, are those of celebrities whose influence in the sphere of popular culture does not translate to actual political action. But what is more uniquely American than performative political costumes?