What Does “Gilded Glamour” From the Met Gala Mean?

Elsie Sutherland, Staff Writer

The annual Met Gala for 2022 took place on Monday, May 2nd. Whether you enjoy watching the entire red carpet event or know nothing about it, everyone is aware that it is one of fashion’s biggest nights. Although you may look at the Met Gala and think, “Wow! Sparkly! Cool fashion,” the theme is a very important element of the event. Gilded Glamour, the theme for 2022, is a reference to The Gilded Age which lasted from the 1870s to the start of the 20th century. The Gilded Age was a time of American industrialization and powerful business. The New York Skyline grew taller, factories became an important part of American culture, and immigration and migration spiked in big cities. The name Gilded Age was coined by Mark Twain when he wrote his book The Gilded Age in 1873. Gilded sounds like a glamorous word to describe such a time, but it is not. Gilded is defined as, “covered thinly with gold leaf or gold paint.” So on the surface, it seems luxurious, but underneath it is full of corruption and despair, which is exactly how you would describe this time. The wealthy 1% controlled 25% of American wealth during this period. The main representation of this is steel and gold. Andrew Carnegie, known as one of the top five wealthiest people of all time, founded Carnegie Steel Company, where steel was extremely important to contribute to the New York skyscrapers. Gold was also an important part of American society because it was not until 1971 that America got rid of the gold standard, meaning gold was no longer a form of fixed currency. So material-wise, metal and gold represent the Gilded Age. 

You may be wondering now, if this time seems so rich, then why are you calling it corrupt? Although companies from Carnegie, Morgan, and Rockefeller seem set up for success, most of their money came from political kickbacks and bribing federal officials. A more important element of this time were the people running the factories and living “normal” lives. The Gilded Age was extremely full of poverty and cruel labor. Immigration and migration were skyrocketing. Even though the quality of life was horrible, it was still work and that was all that mattered to feeding families. Impoverished children weren’t in school and were working in harsh work environments. Tenements, extremely small, dirty, and cheap living spaces, were very common in large cities. Many photos seen online of these tenements were commonly taken by Jacob Riis, a journalist dedicated to urban reform.

So, what does this theme mean in particular to the Met Gala? The theme is not a representation of the fashion of that time. The theme describes the glamorous life of the wealthy while so many others suffered from their actions. Like I said before, the incorporation of metal and gold into the outfits from Monday night are great examples of on-theme. Of course, it is a very common occurrence for celebrities to just show up in a nice dress and suit and completely disregard the theme. As well, Sarah Jessica Parker, a famous actress and “fashionista”, criticized the celebrities who do just that.

Although many disregard the theme, there are also many celebrities that made all our jaws drop. Blake Lively’s transformative dress references the Statue of Liberty and the constellations of the Grand Central Station ceiling. Her tiara, gloves, and the green-blue tint of the dress are a part of the Statue of Liberty theme. Her dress is perfectly on-theme and easily wins the unofficial “Best Outfit” award of the 2022 Met Gala. Alicia Keys’ dress shows the New York skyline. Sarah Jessica Parker’s dress is an homage to the White House’s first black, female fashion designer, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley. Billie Eilish’s historic-looking corset and bustle. Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s full-gold dresses. Jessica Chastain’s sequined gown and headpiece. There are definitely more, but those are the biggest highlights of Monday night. On the other hand, there are many who didn’t even attempt to match the theme. Sebastian Stan’s explosion of pink. Kylie Jenner’s soft, white, and long dress with an unmatching cap. Olivia Rodrigo’s 1990s purple dress. Gigi Hadid’s gigantic puffer-jacket-dress. Kim Kardashian’s Marilyn Monroe Dress. Leaving the topic of off-theme outfits, an honorable mention to Riz Ahmed who wore an outfit dedicated to the working immigrants of the Gilded Age; which isn’t Gilded Glamour, but it definitely relates to the time the theme references.

To anyone who loves a good history lesson just like me, then you definitely can appreciate the complex idea behind the Met Gala of 2022 and will remember this night for many years to come.