I'M MAKING A FASHION STATEMENT. OK!
Marie Claire Australia|December 2021
In a way not seen since the ’80s, signalling your intentions – virtuous or not – through your clothes is back in vogue. But what, writes British fashion director Lisa Armstrong, is really behind all this megaphone dressing, and since when did our wardrobes have to be woke?

Just when you thought the pandemic had finished causing trouble for the fashion industry – decimating jobs and revenues and instilling in millions of people an addiction to tracksuits that could spell the death of trends – along came the 2021 Met Gala.

This annual parade of fashionistas in their finery known as “fashion’s Oscars” – is in theory a fundraising benefit for New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Guests theme their outfits to the Costume Institute’s pretentiously titled exhibitions (this year: In America: A Lexicon of Fashion) and spend lavishly for the chance to show off: tickets to last month’s extravaganza were approximately $US35,000 apiece and tables from $US200,000 to $US300,000. This is meant to be the crème de la crème of fashion.

This year, though? An event that was inaugurated in 1948 to promote America’s nascent fashion industry has turned it into a joke. The millions around the world who tuned in for some escapist glamour were met with frocky horrors, protest ball gowns and woolly posturing so vapid it made Love Island look like the World Economic Forum. Kim Kardashian dressed head to toe in a black jersey one-piece that covered her face? Exploding headwear galore? The message was categorically go large or go home.

If what we wear is a reflection of where we are – with the Met Gala at the pinnacle – society today must be chaotic, confused and regressing into a disturbed childhood. Many are revelling in the meltdown. Others feel profoundly uneasy.

When I asked a Gen Z-er – you really need to be young to appreciate some of this stuff– why they thought Kardashian’s Balenciaga outfit (the Taliban must be delighted to see their female empowerment tactics being taken up by Western celebrities) was “owning it” these days, they explained that “Kim used to be so tacky and naked at every opportunity and now she’s completely covered.”

It’s possible, I suppose, that Kim might have been making some crypto reference to a famous portrait of Mona Eltahawy, the feminist Egyptian-American journalist, who in 2012, to illustrate a feature she’d written about Arab men, posed for the cover of a magazine naked but for a black trompe-l’oeil chador painted on to her body. Inside ran the provocative headline, “Yes. They hate us. It must be said.”

Was this a newly awakened Kim coming out in sympathy with Eltahawy against women being tortured in their daily lives by repressive regimes? Or maybe she was railing against the West’s objectification of women’s bodies – which she has done so much to titillate. Or perhaps she’s just an incorrigible exhibitionist. No wonder her outfit was the hot Halloween costume for 2021.

Increasingly though, these days it’s hard to tell the difference between someone with an acute awareness of social injustice and a fashion influencer. Each has borrowed the other’s tactics (social media means that narcissism is one of the fastest, most effective ways to send your message viral) – and, for that matter, clothes.

Witness the American Democrat politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who attended this year’s ball wearing a gown with the words “Tax the Rich” daubed across it (cue accusations of rampant hypocrisy), turning her into an international meme.

Judging by the hoo-ha around AOC, protest dressing hasn’t lost its snap, crackle or its pop. Finding itself subject to some heavy finger-pointing for trashing the environment and trampling over workers’ rights for the cheapest, fastest deal, the fashion industry is scrambling to jump on the bandwagon. Just look at the scrabble to get Malala Yousafzai to a party, or to sign up Amanda Gorman, the activist poet, or book the hijab-wearing model Halima Aden for catwalk shows.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM MARIE CLAIRE AUSTRALIAView All

I'M MAKING A FASHION STATEMENT. OK!

In a way not seen since the ’80s, signalling your intentions – virtuous or not – through your clothes is back in vogue. But what, writes British fashion director Lisa Armstrong, is really behind all this megaphone dressing, and since when did our wardrobes have to be woke?

8 mins read
Marie Claire Australia
December 2021

Facing the music

A culture of sexism and intimidation is being revealed as the Australian music industry experiences its #MeToo moment. But is the noise enough to create real change?

9 mins read
Marie Claire Australia
December 2021

Keeping up with KIRSTEN

The star talks to James Mottram about her new role in Jane Campion’s ‘The Power of the Dog’, parenting and why she’s never loved acting more

3 mins read
Marie Claire Australia
December 2021

Nicole's SEA CHANGE

Fashion insider Nicole Warne Shadbolt takes us to a few of her favourite spots on the New South Wales Central Coast, her home once again

5 mins read
Marie Claire Australia
December 2021

J.K. Rowling

She was the penniless single mother who cast a spell on the world and inspired a generation to read. Twenty years since the first ‘Harry Potter’ film, Kathryn Madden examines the life of the chart-topping yet controversial author

8 mins read
Marie Claire Australia
December 2021

NO BOUNDARIES BEAUTY

Underarm hair is in and G-strings have taken over the beach. Female beauty ideals have shifted to a more inclusive space, with all ages permitted access, but do they even want it? Three writers find out

10 mins read
Marie Claire Australia
December 2021

Marie claire 2021 WOMEN OF THE YEAR

From Brittany Higgins to Grace Tame and many more, join us in celebrating the women who have fought with passion, led with bravery and inspired with their triumphs in 2021. We salute you!

10+ mins read
Marie Claire Australia
December 2021

The secret lives of SORORITIES

A recent viral moment offered a rare glimpse into the world of sororities – shiny American sisterhoods defined by pledging, parties and social promise. But behind closed college doors lies a culture of elitism, sexism and systemic racial exclusion, writes Kathryn Madden

9 mins read
Marie Claire Australia
December 2021

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT... CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

The Australian designer on why embracing the most magical time of the year has never been more important

2 mins read
Marie Claire Australia
December 2021

‘My escape from a Chinese concentration CAMP'

Sayragul Sauytbay was committed to a ‘re-education’ centre in Xinjiang province alongside thousands of Uighurs and other ethnic groups. She tells Damian Whitworth how she survived the horrific conditions, and then went on to expose China’s atrocities to the world

10+ mins read
Marie Claire Australia
December 2021