What Happens at The Met, Stays at The Met

by Olive Soki-Kavwahiheri

We all have at least one unsolved mystery or conspiracy that we would do anything to uncover. NASA has the never ending search of life on Mars, the Internet has the Illuminati, and I have the Met Gala. Like any other conspiracy this one has its own cult following. From high fashion lovers around the world, to pop culture aficionados, the Met is undeniably captivating. Despite its ever growing popularity, there is one question that pops up every year; what really happens on the first Monday of May, and why am I so hung up over it? The Met in and of itself isn't necessarily a secret to us. We know where it happens, when it happens, and who gets to go. However, the lack of clear details as to what the night truly entails is the factor that keeps it so relevant in the media. We are willing to take anything they will give- even a few pictures of socialites walking into a museum, wearing incredibly beautiful garments- to feel like we are in on the secret.

The Met Gala started out in 1948 as a - not so - simple extravagant supper, to raise money for the costume institution, as well as celebrate the opening night of the annual fashion exhibition. Following the introduction of the yearly themes (now recognized as the main trademark of the night) the Met quickly became one of the most important, and exclusive nights in the fashion industry. Once the 90s arrived it was clear that the Met was the fashion event of the year, yet nobody could have predicted the extravagant growth it would undergo when Anna Wintour became the annual leader, and chairwoman. As the editor-in-chief of American Vogue and artistic director of Conde Nast, the fashion mogul elevated the stakes, and profile of the event. While keeping the exhibition exclusive- if not even more than before- she brought a wider variety of celebrity guests to the event from Gwenyth Paltrow, Lil’ Kim and Jerry Steinfeld. This was the beginning of the legendary crossover between fashion, and celebrity culture which has become a standard in both industries. This shift made the Met even more versatile, connecting a wider audience while maintaining its alluring qualities. Various elements allowed the event to evoke fascination, the dress code being the main source of attraction. The iconic themes presented at the Met are arguably one of the only inclusive aspects of the night, a kind of inclusion within exclusion. Respecting these themes is a golden rule in order to avoid feeling out of place -or public scrutiny. Announced a couple of months in advance, it sets our expectations, and raises some eyebrows while the media theorizes the endless possibilities as to what the theme may conjure. Usually explained in a few words, the yearly announcement follows the same ethos as the gala. Back in 2019 ( the last Met before the pandemic) the theme was camp. This simple title was enough to get the media and anybody who cared about fashion to wonder what was going to happen. From cross referencing Susan Sontag's famous essay “Notes on camp”, to criticizing the ambiguity of the theme, it brought a sense of anticipation that definitely did not disappoint once May came along. Announcing the theme, and only publicizing the red carpet, is the beginning of the never ending chase that catches our attention every year. Now that the world is slowly opening back up after a year of restrictions, the Met is coming back, presenting its first two part exhibition. Fashionably late yet 9 months early, this year's exhibition based on American Fashion will take place September 13th, the official dress code being American Independence.

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The best way to describe the Met is a mix between a secret society and Studio 54. If you squint hard enough, and find the perfect angle you can definitely see the resemblance. It has the secretive elements of numerous-not so- secret societies that are the topic of popular conspiracies. Despite the mysterious nature of the event, it thrives off of elite, and glamorous principles. Without the perfectly calculated popularity of the Met, it would lose its mystique and cultural value. In order to maintain anonymity - just like any other well kept secret- there are some terms and conditions. It's kind of like a fight club, but a bit more extensive. From the age restriction which only permits guests 18 or older to strict seating arrangements, and special menu edits, the rules imposed at the Met are mere details used to spice up the myth. Amongst the well known facts about the night, the public, and guests are no stranger to the no phone rule implemented in 2015. Mentioned on all invitations, the reason behind the ban is “...to clamp down on celebrities spending the majority of the evening on their phones”. Alongside the social media ban highlighted on the invitations, a rule prohibiting smoking inside the museum was added to the terms and conditions following complaints from the board in 2017. As pictures surfaced of celebrities smoking inside the museum, board members and donors expressed their distaste, claiming it was” disrespectful to the art collection”. No matter how strict rules may be, it doesn't take a genius to know that every once in a while they are broken in harmless ways. This is something the guests surely agree with and have built an unofficial tradition around. The legendary bathroom picture always finds its way to our screens following the evening. It's a nice way to trigger our FOMO while also mysteriously immortalizing the evening- the same way people write on bleachers to make sure everybody knows they also sat in the same spot. Other than the iconic bathroom flicks, the secret of the Met is well kept. Usually scarcely documented, the event was tastefully captured in 2017, and 2019 when Frank Ocean covered the evening for Vogue in a series of glamorous - but not too revealing - film photos, capturing candids of the well-dressed socialites throughout the night.

Now more than ever, social media has become a space where people are striving for inclusivity. This progressive journey, which started far before the pandemic hit, allows people to feel accepted in any space they see fit. In a time where digital inclusivity is becoming the norm, stepping out of this virtual utopia and seeing that not much has changed culturally leaves us wanting more. While degrees may vary, in one way or another we always want more, and are hard to satisfy. Whether it's in an area of life that truly impacts our well being or smaller superficial desires, generally speaking, you want what you don’t have and in some cases what you cannot have. This is what adds value to exclusivity. If inclusivity is attainable then it is only natural to occasionally glance over to something that is completely out of reach wondering what it's all about. The same reason why we window shop on expensive websites, pay attention to celebrity culture or read tweets about exclusive newsletters- fantasizing about the day Opulent Tips will find their way to my inbox. By accepting this desire, or curiosity, such levels of elitism and exclusivity gain power in our society. This power isn’t specifically harmful, (although there are many concrete and non-superficial scenarios where exclusivity can be) however, it is important to these institutions as our attention and curiosity determines their relevance. The Met, and the people in charge of the event are aware of this as every year they roll out the carpet and pull us in just to swiftly disappear into the night. While from the outside it appears to be this elaborate secretive assembly, the truth is that it most likely is just another triple A-list fundraising gala that effortlessly emits this aura of mystique. And, there's nothing wrong with that.

The Met Gala is a night of celebration, showcasing craftsmanship through stars dressed by a multitude of designers. It is part of the perpetual development of our pop culture, creating tales that will eventually define the 21st century. Most importantly, it is the Olympus of our time, a representation of the power of anonymity, exclusivity and elitism in our society. As I relentlessly try to wrap my head around the event, the best I can do is answer with defeat “ I guess we’ll never know”, and fantasize about the lustrous mirage we call the Met.






[https://www.vogue.com/article/2021-met-gala-dress-code ]