Between 1870 t0 1900, skyscrapers and fortunes seemed to rise in New York City overnight. Known as “The Gilded Age,” this period was marked by massive economic expansion and new innovations that changed life as we know it today.
The opulent and over-the-top style of the period returned to the mainstream at the 2022 Met Gala on Monday, May 2. The theme of the gala, Gilded Glamour, saw celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Hailey Bieber, and the queen of fashion Anna Wintour pay homage to this eccentric period in history – but who wore it best?
The Gilded Age
The Gilded Age first got its name from an 1873 novel by Mark Twain called The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. Twain coined “The Gilded Age” as a play on “The Golden Age” that was promised following the Civil War. Twain adopted the term to attempt to describe the period between 1870 and 1900 when social problems were masked by the gilded foil of economic expansion.
Telephones and lightbulbs were introduced around this time, and plenty of “new money” families who struck the jackpot in oil fields and coal mines began to arrive on the American high society scene.
The upper echelons wore outfits dripping in excess: elaborate dresses, furs, hats, and jewelry were part of the daily uniform for many Gilded Age women. Men wore simple but impeccably made suits with tails and top hats.
But the outfits are the least outlandish thing about the Gilded Age. The mega-rich families like the Vanderbilts and the Astors were known for consuming a copious amount of anything lavish, from lobsters to mansions to solid gold toilets (yes, you read that right).
An article from Vogue gave us a hint into what Met Gala attendees might be wearing. Celebrities might stick to the strict dress codes of the Gilded Age: “Women put on tulle dresses exposing their décolletage, opulent fur-lined cloaks, and elbow-length gloves.” Women in the Gilded Age were also known to wear multiple outfits every day, so outfit changes can be expected following the Met Gala red carpet.
This year’s gala was hosted by event chairs Regina King, Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. With the “Gilded Age” dress code, we were expecting to see corseted looks, Gibson-girl hairstyles, and massive hats – but some celebrities rarely play by the rules. Let’s take a look at which celebs understood the assignment, and which ones missed the mark.
Actress and Gala co-chair Blake Lively stunned in an Atelier Versace gown with a reversible train. Lively told reporters that her look was inspired by the classic architecture of New York City. The intricate rose gold bodice of the gown represents the design of the Empire State Building, while the blue train reflects the “constellation” of Grand Central Station. Lively nailed her look right down to the accessories like the crown with seven points which represent the seven rays featured on the crown of the Statue of Liberty.
Taking a detour from the “glamour” part of this year’s Gala theme, actor Riz Ahmed decided to pay homage to a largely underrepresented group of the Gilded Age: immigrant workers. The outfit was also made by immigrant designer 4S Designs.
Ahmed’s stylist Julie Ragolia told Vanity Fair: “In thinking about the Met Gala theme of ‘Gilded Glamour,’ I wanted to focus on the people without whom nothing Gilded would exist: the laborers, the workers, the unseen. This look is for everyone who thinks they don’t have a voice. They do”.
Billie Eilish truly echoed the style of the Gilded Age in this stunning Gucci gown. The corset and bustle both reflect the fashions of New York’s high society, while the lace sleeves and fitted skirt add a touch of modern flair. Eilish also claims that the gown was sustainably made using leftover fabrics!
Sarah Jessica Parker
Finally – a hat worthy of the Gilded Age! Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker made her triumphant return to the Met Gala Red Carpet this year in a custom Christopher John Rogers gown and a towering Philp Treacy headpiece. Even Met curator Andrew Bolton was wowed by how on-theme SJP appeared: “This dress was really exquisite and pretty much fit the period of time.” After all, nobody knows New York-style quite like Carrie Bradshaw herself!
Model Bella Hadid took a sexy spin on Gilded Age fashion with a lingerie-inspired Burberry look. The leather corset, dramatic opera gloves, and Victorian-esque hairstyle all point to an edgy execution of this year’s Gala theme.
After nearly missing the Met red carpet while stuck in traffic, actress Sydney Sweeney arrived fashionably late in a white Tory Burch gown. She began her walk up the Met’s iconic steps in a trailing ballgown with a peplum accent and structured corset top, only to reveal a short and spunky second look underneath! The 24-year-old rising star delivered the best of both worlds with a unique look that was both fun and on-theme.
Actress and model Laura Harrier donned a custom H&M gown for her fourth Met Gala. The black and silver gown with corsetted bodice paired perfectly with black velvet opera gloves to deliver a rich and opulent take on “gilded glamour.”
Indigenous model and activist Quannah Chasinghorse stunned in a Prabal Gurung gown and traditional jewelry made by Antelope Woman Designs. Chasinghorse traces her ancestry to the Hän Gwich’in and Oglala Lakota Nations of Alaska, Canada, and South Dakota. The balance of modern and traditional elements in her look speaks to how Indigeneity would have been represented in the Gilded Age as many Indigenous peoples were forced to assimilate into Western society. Chasinghorse’s effortless red carpet look brings empowering representation for many Indigenous women and girls today,
While there were plenty of amazing, on-theme looks on the red carpet this year, just as many seemed totally out of place. Here are just some of the celebrities that clearly didn’t understand the meaning of Gilded Glamour.
Model Gigi Hadid wore this oversized Versace puffer coat over fitted latex pants and a matching corset top – and it’s really giving us maroon Michelin Man vibes. The corset is the only on-theme element of this matching ensemble, but unless the theme was Canada-chic why wear a winter jacket to the soiree of the season?
From the neck down, Kylie Jenner’s custom Off White gown seems like a great fit for this year’s Gala theme. The ruffled skirt with a long train and fitted corset top are reminiscent of popular silhouettes of the Gilded Age, but the glamourous gown mixed with the strange athleisure elements of the mesh t-shirt and backward baseball cap is anything but a home run.
Actor Sebastian Stan donned head-to-toe neon Valentino to this year’s gala, but the pink highlighter look is so off-theme it hurts (which is probably why he needs those shades). For any other event, we could see why Stan chose this bubblegum ensemble, but certainly not for the fashion event of the year!
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Actress and model Cara Delevingne took the “gilded glamour” theme a bit too far, and maybe a bit too on the nose. Head to toe in Dior Haute Couture, Delevingne’s menswear-inspired look complete with a cane and a formal waistcoat with tails that looked surprisingly laid back the star – who is no stranger to challenging the fashion norm. But boy were we wrong once that coat came off to reveal a ton of gold body paint. Maybe not the best look of the night, but Delevingne wins extra points for braving the red carpet topless!