It was also a reminder of what traditionalists deny themselves. What is a skirt or a dress, anyway? Thom Browne, the famous American designer to process the costume as a canvas with endless potential for innovation, approached conventional womenswear in the same way last night. Take actor Oscar Isaac, who walked the red carpet in a trompe l’oeil midi dress that looked like a suit and white tie, while his wife, Elvira Lind, wore an actual version of the same ensemble. This isn’t the first time Isaac has collaborated with Browne on an outfit that fuses menswear and womenswear: Browne dressed him in a gray pleated skirt for the premiere of “Moon Knight”, the Marvel superhero show.
In both looks, Isaac did something different from British singer Harry Styles choose to wear a dress on the cover of Vogue or actor Billy Porter wearing prom dresses for the Oscars. Isaac wears skirts and dresses in a way that challenges the assumption that these garments are inherently feminine.
Professional basketball player Russell Westbrook did the same in a pleated skirt and Thom Browne top hat – as did Christine Baranski, channeling not so much her society dowager character in “The Gilded Age” as the railroad tycoon robber baron who lives across the street. The skirts of these outfits weren’t flowing or fanciful, but rather edifices supporting the rest of the ensembles – and showcasing the personalities of the stars who wore them.
Browne wasn’t the only designer toying with these ideas. other men sports corsets, hustle, barrettes, delicate embroideries and flowing capes that paid homage to the late editor of Vogue magazine, André Leon Talley. Paapa Essiedu, the British Shakespearean and television actor, wore a velvet suit with delicate jewelry by Veert. Julia Langwho founded this company, suggested that “an undeniable desire for good taste and positive self-expression” can unite people across the categories of identity that otherwise define them.
Such good taste is probably not what conservatives who have gone to war against what they call “gender ideology” think. The future they fear probably looks a little more like Swedish fashionista Fredrik Robertsson in an Iris Van Herpen dress that made him look less like a man or a woman and more like a being from a whole other galaxy.
Most people will never have access to the kind of clothing on display at the Met Gala. But anyone can approach the clothes with the same sense of joy and curiosity if they want. Moments like the Met Gala reveal how rigid gender norms have little to offer as an alternative for people interested in beauty, style and self-expression.
Of course, plenty of men looked flawless in more traditional tuxedos: Ryan Reynolds, for example, knew not to distract his wife Blake Lively’s magnificent tribute to the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. But confinement men in the basic black and white and conservative cuts of traditional formal wear is to deny them opportunities for joy and curiosity.
“Life is so much better if you wear a @maisonvalentino dress made with sequins and feathers in the colors of the rainbow – you should try it”, Robertsson wrote on Instagram in April. And it seems that more and more men are willing to follow this advice.
After all, when women’s props hit the NFL Draft, there’s definitely something in the air.
Garrett Wilson, the Ohio State wide receiver selected by the New York Jets with the 10th pick last month, makes a statement in a triple row of pearls and a slim, double-breasted, color-blocked Prada suit. With a few tweaks and substitutions — for example, swapping out her chunky boots for a pair of heels — the ensemble would have looked right at home on Nancy Pelosi.
Much like the men in Thom Browne skirts and dresses did at the Met Gala, Wilson’s choice of outfit caused the keen observer to reconsider our tired assumptions. Who wouldn’t want to marry precision and playfulness on one of the greatest days of their career?
It’s easy, if lazy, to view events like the Met Gala and the NFL Draft as distractions from What Truly Matters. But the fantasy also serves its purpose even in such dark times: it’s a reminder of what can be, if only we dare to reach out and pull it off the rack.