From ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,’ to ‘Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,’ the Met Gala themes have never been anything short of thought-provoking and elaborate. This year’s theme, however, is a little less straightforward than past years.
The theme for the 2019 Met Gala exhibition is ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion.’ Contrary to the title, however, this isn’t about celebrating the stereotypical idea of camp-one that revolves around nature and minimalism-but rather the opposite. According to Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, camp is ornamented and extravagant; it’s a “surplus—when things are too much.”
The definition of camp is somewhat vague, but that’s the point. Camp seems to be a celebration of the vague lines between femininity and masculinity, serious and garish, definable and indefinable. It’s the very idea of not being able to be described, and in this aspect it opens the door to a wide variety of interpretation.
Although Bolton does attempt to elucidate the theme better by saying that styles which best encapsulate camp are ones with a “failed seriousness—not consciously trying to be camp.” There’s a somewhat thin line between being camp and tacky, but the difference lies in the active effort of being over-the-top. With camp, it comes natural.
Some examples of the embodiment of this idea are Elton John and designs by Yves Saint Laurent. Both are known for being unabashedly extraneous, yet widely beloved.
The idea of this year’s theme as ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’ is a brilliant way to play on the historical outlandishness of Met Gala looks and to encourage the continuation of the creativity put into them. Perhaps the quote that best expresses the idea behind camp is one by Oscar Wilde, “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.”
With such an amorphous theme, the allure to see what celebrities and fashion icons will wear to the event will be even greater than in years past. Needless to say, stars such as Rihanna, Zendaya and Katy Perry will excel in their extravagant ‘camp’ looks, but the bulk of the meaning of camp will fall on smaller icons. Will Met-goers take this opportunity to spark their creativity and take on the challenge of camp? Or will they be intimidated and fall back into the cycle of subpar evening dresses?