How the 2019 Met Gala Reflected a Shift in Black Men’s Relationship with Fashion

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By now I am sure you know that this year’s Met Gala theme was “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” based on a 1964 essay by Susan Sontag, and needless to say about 87.2% of layfolk were initially confused by the title.  The elements of “camp,” according to Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton, include “artifice, exaggerations, theatricality, irony.”  Essentially it’s the opposite of anything we would typically see straight men wearing.  However, for a night usually focused on women’s fashions, it was the men, of every orientation, that dominated this year’s event.  Black male attendees in particular seemed to embrace the theme with a heightened level of excitement, exemplified by their daring outfit choices.

Odell Beckham, Jr. wearing Thom Browne
Lewis Hamilton wearing Tommy Hilfiger

From actor Billy Porter’s embellished Egyptian ensemble, to the many multi-colored Dapper Dan suits, to football player Saquon Barkley’s biker shorts, the pink carpet was a parade of black men doing something that only recently has become acceptable: having fun with fashion and not giving a :bleep: what “The Shaderoom” trolls have to say about it.  For instance, singer-songwriter Dev Hynes channeled Queen Elizabeth II (and A$AP Rocky) in a Gucci headscarf, race car driver Lewis Hamilton went for a Matrix meets Vegas vibe in zig-zagged Tommy Hilfiger, and rapper Travis Scott was a part of a Rhythm Nation courtesy of Dior.  NFL star Odell Beckham, Jr. had social media in a tizzy when he appeared in a skirt designed by Thom Browne.  Personally, I don’t think I’ve seen as many colors, sparkles and ruffles on black men since the “All the Players Came” episode of Martin.  Indeed, all the players came to play at the Met.  

Billy Porter wearing The Blonds
Travis Scott wearing Dior Homme

Despite the focus on individual outfits during fashion’s biggest night, the 2019 Met Gala reflects shifts in how black men as a collective are approaching fashion.  In recent years, we have seen an uptick in the celebration of “black boy joy,” and this has trickled down to the fun ways black men are experimenting with their personal style.  One could scroll through any series of senior prom pictures or groomsman photos on Instagram and see black men of all types flexing their flare for the fanciful. Take the 2018 NBA draft for example.  What was once a display of ill-fitting suits has turned into draftees showcasing their appreciation for high fashion in conjunction with their love of basketball.  This has undoubtedly been inspired by the highly anticipated pre-game ensembles of players such as Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Lebron James, P.J. Tucker and James Harden.  

Dev Hynes wearing Gucci
Michael B. Jordan wearing Coach

With anything that black people do, fashion brands are definitely taking notice.  Several luxury fashion designers have partnered with athletic brands for capsule collections, such as Ricardo Tisci’s collaboration with Nike to reinvent the iconic Air Force One.  And as many black athletes and actors continue to command the front rows at fashion shows, more black men have become creative forces in the industry behind the scenes as well.  If nothing else, Met Gala 2019 helped to confirm one thing: black men really like fashion, and fashion is starting to like us back.

Saquon Barkley

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