Met Gala 2021 was a strange showing fashion-wise. There’s the theme, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” which probably was a bit too broad. The usual style icons, like Zendaya and Blake Lively, skipped this year—and Rihanna showed up at the tail end. While we did release a best dressed list, it was admittedly hard to cobble together. The general vibe is that it’s both boring and resembling a fever dream.
That being said, a lot of the girlies showed up passing the assignment with clear-cut references in tow. There was Lil Nas X in his three-pronged gold ensemble which to me screamed afrofuturism. Naomi Osaka’s funky ode to her Haitian-Japanese roots was also on point. However, a lot of my favorites of the night were the looks that were less conceptual and referenced a specific woman in American history.
Yara Shahidi, star of “Grownish” and “The Sun Is Also a Star,” came in looking like a dream. She was dressed in a custom studded Christian Dior strapless piece with a long train. She also had a single cute li’l edge coiled in the middle of her forehead. Styled by Jason Bolden of “Styling Hollywood” fame, her look was inspired by Josephine Baker. Baker, if you didn’t know, was a Black woman who was both a performing artist and activist in the 1920s until her death in 1975. She was a very influential flapper in her time, and the now-staple swooping baby hair gelled into place look points back to her. Later in life, she both joined the French Resistance against the Germans and fought for American civil rights.
It’s funny to me now that when pictures of Nikkie de Jager—otherwise known as Nikkietutorials—in her teal couture gown bedecked in flowers came out, many thought it was simply a reference to “Midsommar.” It’s not so far off: The flower crown does resemble Florence Pugh’s in the film, de Jager is Nordic, and the look was very much giving May Queen vibes. However, her look was an obvious nod to Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, down to her blue sash saying “pay it no mind.” The phrase is what the P in Johnson’s name stood for in reference to her gender. After de Jager came out as trans last year, it’s so powerful seeing her pay homage to the trans sisters who came before her, all while looking beautiful.
Is that Diana Ross? Baby, that’s Keke Palmer. In a stunning body-hugging Sergio Hudson gown and natural curls, Palmer channeled Ross’s post-Supremes disco diva era. Icons referencing icons? We love to see it.
I do have to say, though, as much as I love the reference to this Diana Ross era, I was sort of looking forward to someone recreating her 1969 “G.I.T on Broadway” look. Ross singing “I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” from “South Pacific” while donning a cave of hair and flowers was iconic.
This year, Gemma Chan wore a black mini dress with a long green bow and train designed by Nepalese-American designer Prabal Gurung. Stitched onto the dress was a silver dragon, a reference to the iconic “dragon lady robe” worn by Anna May Wong in “Limehouse Blues.” Wong was the first Chinese American film star.
I’ve seen a few people on social media say that Chan’s dress doesn’t fit the theme. But the dragon lady robe is very Asian American. The dress was created by costume designer Travis Banton as an amalgamation of both Asian and Western styles. As the Metropolitan Museum entry on the robe describes, the high neckline on the robe isn’t something found on cheongsams. Instead, the dress’ structure is more Belle Epoque. It was designed to look both familiar to the white American audience while also foreign—Wong was often exoticized in her film roles.
Here’s another old Hollywood film star reference. This time, it’s Emily Blunt channeling actress turned inventor Hedy Lamarr. Blunt wore a custom Miu Miu piece bedecked in sparkly silver gems, while on her head was a celestial halo headpiece. It’s a reference to Lamarr’s look in the 1941 film “Ziegfeld Girl” where she wore a star-studded flowy robe and a constellation of silver stars around her head.
Billie Eilish is on a roll this year. After she went all retro bombshell in a blush Alexander McQueen corset and a black Mugler catsuit for her Vogue cover, Eilish rocked a beige tulle Oscar de la Renta ball gown at the red carpet. Sporting a cute bleach blonde bob, she evoked Marilyn Monroe at her only Oscar red carpet appearance.
But aside from channeling Monroe, Eilish’s Met Gala look is notable for one other thing: It convinced Oscar de la Renta to stop using fur.
I’m pleasantly surprised by Kendall Jenner’s ‘fit this year. Though she usually skips the theme and wears pretty, if boring, dresses at the Met Gala, Jenner came in serving in a Givenchy gown. The sheer piece somehow managed to both be a naked dress—she is a Kardashian, after all—while also referencing Audrey Hepburn’s crystal ball gown in “My Fair Lady.”
Kaia Gerber is the second person in an Oscar de la Renta gown on this list. Her ensemble is a full recreation of a ‘fit worn by actress and human rights activist Bianca Jagger. Specifically, her Met Gala 1981 gown designed by Marc Bohan for Dior. As W Magazine writes, it’s an obscure look “both Met Gala- and Jagger-wise.” I’m not quite sure why Gerber decided to reference the Nicaraguan Jagger instead of, I don’t know, her American mother Cindy Crawford who was at the forefront of the American supermodel craze of the ’80s and ’90s. You do you, I guess?