As everyone admires this year’s Met Gala ensembles, it’s important to think about the lens through which we see clothing and fashion.
The Met Gala is undoubtedly one of the fashion highlights of the year: celebrities and other notable people dress up in the most amazing — most of the time, simply bizarre — outfits according to the theme and strut down the red carpet, posing for the media. Last year’s Met Gala took place on 13th September and the theme was American Independence.
One look that caught many people’s eyes was Kim Kardashian’s black ensemble which covered every inch of her body, including her face and hair. Many critics were confused and thought the look had no aesthetic value or meaning, whilst others loved the look and lauded it as one of the best looks of the night. While people tried to decipher the significance of the outfit, Kim Kardashian responded on Instagram by posting a picture of herself at the gala with the caption of: “What’s more American than a T-shirt head to toe?”.
While her statement does bear weight and her outfit deserves credit for creativity and boldness, many disagreed with the white privilege she experienced whilst wearing such an outfit. Muslim women in the West who wish to cover themselves are discriminated against and experience racism, and in some countries are even banned from wearing their religious clothing, and yet Kim Kardashian was labelled as a fashion icon simply because she isn’t Muslim.
This is no criticism of Kim Kardashian herself. The issue here is the reception of her outfit by others and in the media. It’s ironic that the burqa, which is so often seen in Western media as a symbol for Islamic oppression, was complimented and labelled as “high fashion” at an event in the West with a theme of ‘independence’. The Muslim women who, on a daily basis, wear essentially the very same outfit as Kim Kardashian are never considered to be fully consenting adults who are “independently” making the decision to cover themselves.
Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, told Vogue that he believed that we have come to a time where American identity needs to be re-examined “through the lens of recent social justice movements”. He said that he was impressed by “American designers’ responses to the social and political climate, particularly around issues of body inclusivity and gender fluidity”, and that he is finding their work very, very self-reflective”. Although not deliberately intended, the outfit has actually caused reflection and reignited the social justice movement against Islamophobia, and the double standards between Muslim and non-Muslim women. Fashion is meant to provoke, to cause outrage, and to begin a discussion, and, based on this case, we can agree that it has accomplished what it has set out to achieve.
It’s time for society to stop dictating what women can do, say, and wear, and open up the freedom to express oneself to all. We are all empowered by different things, and we must celebrate that. JAN Trust values the inherent worth of every individual, and provides expert training and workshops in schools and offices that help raise awareness and deconstruct myths that surround sensitive topics such as Islamophobia.