In Praise of Met Gala Minimalists

Julianne Moore breezed into the Met wearing a column of white Tom Ford, and it was glorious. The red carpet at the Costume Institute Gala is famed for its bombastic fashion moments, but Oscar winner Moore kept things subtle. Her understated look was a tribute to an understated Oleg Cassini gown Jacqueline Kennedy-Onasis wore to the National Gallery of Art in 1963, one of the night’s many references to Camelot. The former first lady’s version was pink chiffon with porcelain beading, but Ford stripped the idea down to brass tacks outfitting Moore in white crème silk and ivory kid gloves. One of the simplest ensembles of the evening, it was a palate cleanser after all the ornate—and at times overwroght—finery.

Minimalist pieces like Moore’s gown are increasingly rare at the Met Gala, where a “go big or go home” attitude now reigns supreme. Rihanna may have missed 2022’s ceremony—sculptural tributes notwithstanding—but her presence has left an indelible effect on the event. Since her fashionably late arrival in Guo Pei’s haute couture cape at the 2015 ‘China: Through the Looking Glass’ gala, many have sought to emulate her internet-breaking outfit reveal or top it. The competition for the most eventful entrance becomes stiffer with each passing year. Though it’s led to entertainment like the nesting doll-esque outfit changes, Lady Gaga treated the crowd to in 2019 and Lizzo’s impromptu flute concert, all the performances can overshadow the fashion. 

These days you hear a Met Gala moment before you see it. During the ceremony, anyone in the vicinity of Fifth Avenue can tell when the throngs of people who’ve camped out to see the arrivals are having a good time. Their reactions are a chorus of applause, screaming, and the occasional declaration of love from sign-holding teenage “Stans” whose devotion earned them a glimpse of Harry Styles or Timothée Chalamet. The IRL excitement reflects what happens on the internet, where vitality trumps style, and celebrities know that starting a conversation around their outfits is often more important than whether or not they look good wearing them. 

The noise that accompanies all that fuss can drown out the quieter fare. Still, this year the Met’s minimalists came to the fore. Moore led the pack, but she wasn’t alone; British rapper king Stormzy made a striking Met debut in an all-white Burberry tux complete with a grain de poudre wool cape. A commanding presence at 6’5, he was impossible to miss in the austere Ricardo Tisci design. Equally compelling was the jet black mohair bolero worn by Elvis star Austin Butler. Paired with matching trousers, a satin scarf, and brushed leather boots, the combination had all the king’s swagger and none of the rhinestones. The eternally cool Riz Ahmed wore his 4SDesigns workwear, baniyan, and vintage boots in honor of the immigrants and the unsung heroes whose rarely acknowledged and poorly compensated work was the steam that powered the engine of the industrial revolution. Proof that you don’t need glitter or glitz to make a powerful statement with fashion, Ahmed’s look was a win on multiple levels. 

Those who eschewed the gilded part of the night’s theme, didn’t lack for glamour; their version of minimalism utilized references and embellishment to create dreama. Hailey Bieber and Emma Stone adorned themselves in gauzy slips and marabou feathers, channeling boudoir style without going retro. Gabriela Hearst arrived with a band of eco-conscious muses, Venus Williams, Amy Schumer, and environmental activist Xiye Bastida among them, dressed in variations on her tailored black blazers. After her immersion in Gilded Age fashions for Julian Fellows’ HBO period drama, Christine Baranski left the world of brocade and bustles behind in Thom Browne’s vented floor-length skirt and matte sequin cape-back jacket, both whimsical and modern. Even the Kardashians got in on the game with Kourtney and her beau Travis Barker, splitting white tie and tails between them in his and hers versions of the tuxedo. 

Each of the guests who chose simplicity went a different route, but they all seemed at ease in their clothing. There were no tumbles or tulle train crashes, no assistance required from the young men who stand guard on the staircase and are used as crutches by guests attempting to mount its summit. There was no need for Rihanna cosplay or bids for attention beyond posing for a few pictures. Attending the Costume Institute Gala without wearing an actual costume might not seem like an accomplishment. Still, after all the gilding, you can’t look at an outfit like Moore’s, Stormzy’s, or Stone’s without feeling refreshed. 

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