Defining Camp Ahead Of The 2019 Met Gala

Published on May 6, 2019

It’s here, the biggest night in fashion has hit the red carpet for the 2019 Met Gala.

As celebrities from around the world flock to New York’s fifth avenue red carpet event dressed to the nines, us peasants will be at home watching the live stream from the comfort of our couches. But what is the Met Gala? The annual event is well-known as one of the most exclusive events in the fashion and art industry, and as the chief plot point for last summer’s blockbuster hit, Ocean’s 8, the highly publicized event is only gaining more traction in the mainstream media. This year’s theme is Camp, and with Lady Gaga and Harry Styles listed as the co-chairs on the event (next to Anna Wintour herself), the event is sure to be the most flamboyant of all.

Notes On Camp

But what is “camp,” exactly? The artistic movement is hard to define for those unfamiliar with the concept. A 1964 essay titled “Notes on Camp” and penned by Susan Sontag describes the artistic movement as remarkably indescribable in itself. Characterized by its bold, borderline offensive use of bright color and design, Camp is the amalgamation of what it means to be flamboyant, bold, and original all wrapped up into one obnoxiously fashionable and effervescent aesthetic. If Andy Warhol ate a Margaret Keane painting, washed it down with a vial of neon, bathed in glitter and then covered himself in gold leaf, THAT would be campy. Got it?

In a sense, Camp could be easily defined more as a type of performance art rather than a type of visual art, as the movement requires a certain level of theatrics in order to pull off. “Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a “lamp”; not a woman, but a “woman,”” writes Sontag. “To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater,” she continues.

If you’re still confused about what camp is, exactly, I prescribe to you a heavy dose of early Madonna, followed by exactly 12 replays of this Lady Gaga performance. It may be tacky, but it’s not tasteless. Camp takes a theatrical wound and bedazzles it, baby! It throws a lace-front wig on its owner, glues on a pair of massive faux eyelashes, and makes it visually exhilarating.

And that is what’s about to grace the most exclusive red carpet in the world.

The Met Gala

Historically, the Met Gala has never been this—uh, flamboyant? Fashion’s night out has had its fair share of daring creations throughout the years. Last year’s “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit brought with it maybe the most blasphemous Gala event to date. Each year Vogue, which hosts and creates the event, announces a theme for the following year about 10 months before the event. The exhibit is curated by Vogue’s own Anna Wintour and the curator for the British Museum, Andrew Bolton. The two choose the exhibit theme, its contents, and the co-chairs for the Gala event. This year those co-chairs happen to be Lady Gaga and Harry Styles—two of the most campy artists on the current pop culture zeitgeist.

Each Met Gala event acts as a fundraiser for the following year and a kickoff to the current costume exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This year, obviously, the Met’s costume exhibit explores the concept of camp throughout fashion history. Some notable recent themes include Manus X Machina, which explored the relationship between technology and fashion, and less esoteric themes like “Chanel” or “McQueen.” The Met Gala takes place on the first Monday in May each year.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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