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Met Gala 2019: What is “camp” and who wore it best?

Updated: May 10, 2019

Every year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts one of the most extravagant events in the fashion calendar. On the first Monday of each May, fashion designers, actors, musicians, models and artists come together in New York to celebrate art in the form of fashion.

The Met Gala is a fundraiser which was founded by publicist Eleanor Lambert. The first benefit was held in 1948 as a way to encourage donations from New York's high society. Today, the Met Gala is where the most famous faces from the realms of fashion, film, music and art come together to raise money for the Met.

Each year, there is an assigned “theme” for the clothes featured in the museum exhibit, which is the also the dress code for the party. Last year, the theme was “Sunday best” for an exhibit about Catholic dress. This year, the dress code was “Camp: Notes On Fashion.”

Lady Gaga is one celebrity who is known for being considered ”campy” thanks to the extravagant fashion she wears. I mean, this is the woman who introduced the world to the “meat dress” and showed up to an awards show in a giant egg, after all.

So it was no surprise when Gaga showed up in a hot pink parachute gown with a 25-foot train, surrounded by its designer Brandon Maxwell, her glam squad and a bunch of tuxedoed backup dancers who danced around her.

This alone would have been enough, but of course, Gaga didn’t stop there. What followed was a burlesque-like performance where she began removing layer after layer in a series of four dramatic transformations.

It ended with Gaga in a black sparkling bra with matching underwear, and pulling a pink wagon full of Maxwell’s rosé, hairspray and clear purses.

Gaga won the red carpet not simply because of the way she looked, but because of the way she took this year’s theme and made a performance out of it to fully capture “campiness” in its entirety.

The theme for this year’s Gala pulled largely from a 1964 Susan Sontag short essay titled “Notes on ‘Camp’” where she described the term “campy” as "love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration." Basically, “campy” is an adjective used to describe someone or something as being over the top.

According to Webster's Dictionary, at first, “camp” was used not simply in reference to exaggerated mannerisms, but specifically to those that were believed to be characteristic of gay men.

The word has since taken on additional senses that are not necessarily connotations of sexuality, but the history of camp and campy is strongly connected with issues of gay identity.

Salisbury University senior Chase Hancock is a strong supporter of this year‘s Met Gala theme.

“I love that the Met Gala this year decided to use ‘camp’ as their theme because it really gives a strong homage to the art of drag,” he said. “Camp really rooted from that community, and I think that this event allowed representation to be seen on a grand, socially relevant platform.”

One celebrity at this year’s Gala who took into consideration the history of the term “camp” was Lena Waithe.

Waithe showed up to the event in a pinstriped pantsuit which appeared to look quite simple.

Yet a closer look revealed the buttons were actually the faces of black "camp" pioneers, and the stripes were lyrics from Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and other anthems from iconic black divas. On the back of her jacket in bold font were the words, “Black Drag Queens Invented Camp."


By MELANIE RAIBLE Staff writer

Featured image: The New York Times Images.

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