2022 Met Gala: Working Class Fashion Golden Age Glamor

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Riz Ahmed, Quannah Chasinghorse, and Gabrielle Union at the 2022 Met Gala. Image: Dimitrios Kambouris, Jamie McCarthy, Mike Coppola, and Getty Images.

Part of the fun of the Met Gala for us online plebeians is praising and criticizing outfits that cost more than we’ve made in a year. I mean, seriously, money went into this, and still, some just can’t stay on the theme. This year’s theme “Gilded Glamor” refers to the time period from the 1870s to the 1900s. This period includes massive industrialization, scientific progress, and more between the Civil War (and Reconstruction) and the lead-up to World War I.

However, it was also a time of genocide and an exploitative workforce that was as glamorous as it was involved. On May Day, unions fight/die for the 8 hour workday at events like the Haymarket Affair. With such a busy decade (and it’s still often overlooked), some participants decided not to imitate the fashions and attire of the wealthy few but, instead, chose to pay homage to ordinary people whose struggles still resonate today. This method is another way to play with the limits set by Mode and The Metropolitan Museum of Art but still have an honest conversation about art and history.

Quannah Chasinghorse

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 02: Quannah Chasinghorse attends the 2022 Met Gala Celebration "In America: A Fashion Anthology" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 02, 2022 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
(Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

The first to stand out were Hän Gwich’in and Sičangu/Oglala Lakota activist and model Quannah Chasinghorse. People tried to say her dress was off-theme, but apart from the necklace shape and the use of blue tulle, she was wearing a very accurate outfit—just not for those in power. He instead chose to represent the Indigenous people who fought for sovereignty during the late 19th century (and today) rather than dressing up like invaders.

One way the US could reunite the country (sort of) after the Civil War was by prematurely exiting the south during Reconstruction and continuing our war against Native American nations. Soldiers, militias, and settlers killed (in some cases, massacred) the natives. The government forced those who were still alive into reservations and their children to re-education boarding schools. Chasinghorse clothes and clothing serve not only as a place to sit at the table but also as a reminder that indigenous peoples are here.

People can express their culture however they like, but it’s still a strong statement to put this aspect of culture (which is constantly being erased) front and center.

Atelier Prabal Gurung Atelier Prabal Gurung upcycled hand-lipited trapeze looks light blue (like water) or turquoise (which she wore more prominently last year wearing her aunt’s 2006 Miss Navajo Nation jewelry) depending on the lighting. Turquoise is an important color and gemstone for natives such as the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni of the southwestern United States. The jewelery (by Blackfeet and Cree artists Lenise Omeasoo) features some Earth elements such as Dentalium shells, porcupine spines and tan/smoke skin. Chasinghorse noted on Instagram that the traditional Lakota gown was on display at the Met show and featured the same elements.

Riz Ahmad

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 02: Riz Ahmed attends the 2022 Met Gala Celebration "In America: A Fashion Anthology" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 02, 2022 in New York City.  (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
(Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Most people ignore Ahmed because he seems to be playing it safe like most men, but we were quickly proven wrong when the award-winning British Pakistani actor spoke to Mode correspondent Emma Chamberlain.

Now, you know, this is the Golden Age in New York, so it’s an appeal to the immigrant workers who keep the Golden Age golden. […] Yeah man, that’s what makes this town work. These are some work tools remade by Forest Designs, made from silk. This jewelry is actually much inspired by Islamic jewelry from India. Just trying to uplift and celebrate that immigrant culture.

As nations abolished slavery in North and South America (we were among the latter), the wheels of capitalism, thanks to cheap labor, had to keep turning. As today, many turned to immigrants (of all ethnicities, but mostly in Asia and Eastern Europe) who had little refuge. This “help” is not always reciprocated, even at the national level. (See China’s Exclusion Act of 1882.) The ensemble pays homage to all sections of this labor community.

His clothes look very similar to the work clothes that millions of people wear today. In fact, an open jacket and white shirt will look familiar to anyone whose family works in factories and refineries. Ahmed looked like he was about to take off his boots. American designer Salvador Angelo Urrutia who helped create Ahmed’s look, added, “Immigrant workers made the golden age and all ages.”

Unions and trade unions

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 02: Gabrielle Union attends the 2022 Met Gala Celebration "In America: A Fashion Anthology" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 02, 2022 in New York City.  (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)
(Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Apart from Chasinghorse and Ahmed, Gabrielle Union also took this moment to acknowledge marginalized communities. The Golden Age gave rise to the first wave of the KKK (1865–1880s), Jim Crow laws, and mass incarceration (chain gangs came into widespread use in the US after the Civil War). This time it was the pinnacle of fearless journalism by journalists like Ida Barnett Wells. Union told red carpet host LaLa Anthony,

“Because when you think about the Golden Age and the black and brown people of this country, this country was built on our backs, our blood, sweat and tears. So we added this red crystal to represent the blood that was shed during the accumulation of gross wealth by some people during the Golden Age, from the backs of black people and people of color in this country.”

Maybe I’m biased because these are all people trying to tell important stories and speak for those who are more marginalized than themselves, but I don’t see any of this as superficial grandeur. They simply understand the task and see it as an opportunity to get people to confront what makes that theme possible, for better or for worse. Their outfits are most likely being discussed with the exhibition as well.

Congruent with night, the Condé Nast Union (under Mode) took and shared this image to remind people of the invisible and exploited workforce that made this night possible. In a statement, they reminded everyone, “Without us the Met Gala would not have been possible. But Condé took our work for granted, forcing us to accept low wages, long hours, and unpaid overtime, all for the sake of ‘prestige’. Prestige doesn’t pay the bills. Prestige doesn’t pay rent.”

(images: Dimitrios Kambouris, Jamie McCarthy, Mike Coppola, and Getty Images.)

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