This year's Met Gala was the site of some major sartorial wins and losses.

Celebrities and designers interpreted the night's theme, "American Independence," rather inconsistently. From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's statement-making gown (a win, in our opinion) to Justin Bieber's sloppy suit, the night peaked at thrilling highs and dropped to concerning lows.

On Monday night, each celebrity appearance was gauged by a phrase oft thrown around the Twittersphere: They understood the assignment. A Balenciaga and ERL-clad Rihanna and A$AP Rocky understood the assignment. In a shocking fall from grace, Jennifer Lopez did not.

But beyond the buzz of the Gala's red (or rather, beige) carpet, the exhibit executed the assignment with aplomb.

In the face of such a glitzy event, it's easy to forget that the Met Gala is a fundraiser for the museum's Anna Wintour Costume Center, this year home to a timely exhibition, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.

However inconsistently interpreted by our favorite celebrities, the overarching theme of American fashion — its past, present, and future — is apparent in every garment head curator Andrew Bolton selected for the show. In curatorial terms, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion gets an A.

"Organizations like The Met and Instagram are evolving," Adam Mosseri, head of the Facebook-owned app (the show's sponsor), proclaimed at a media preview of the exhibit. "We have to evolve if we want to stay relevant."

Helmed by Bolton, the Costume Center is indeed evolving, in the best sense of the word. Ten years ago, the Costume Center (back then, called the Costume Institute) wouldn't have bat an eye at designers outside of the LVMH-Kering-Richement sphere.

Now, the museum is giving up-and-coming talent their flowers. Perhaps most striking about In America is its inclusion of emerging talent — brands such as Puppets and Puppets, Lou Dallas, and Dauphinette (hardly household names) are displayed alongside American greats including Claire McCardell, Tom Ford, and Ralph Lauren.

Instagram's sponsorship of In America certainly had a hand in de-institutionalizing (so to speak) the Costume Center and its new show. During the preview, Mosseri emphasized the role of the online creator in shaping culture: discovered on social media, unsigned faces become sought-after models; ambitious designers land spots on the Fashion Month schedule.

These internet-savvy up-and-comers comprise the heart and soul of American fashion today. The go-to platform for creatives to showcase their work, Instagram is expediting a sort of "trickle around" effect, wherein small brands are influencing the greats, which are inevitably copied by fast-fashion retailers. It only makes sense that Bolton would include these emerging yet resonant voices in the conversation.

L-R: KidSuper; Lou Dallas; Eckhaus Latta
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Though Facebook is a hotly debated character, there's no denying that Instagram has helped democratize the fashion-scape, allowing unknowns to catapult to viral success with one perfectly timed post. In fact, many of the designers included in the exhibit — like No Sesso, Vaquera, and even the mighty Telfar — built their followings on social media, and their businesses on e-commerce.

Much like a patchwork quilt, the quintessentially American creation that serves as an emblem for In America, the Instagram Feed is a mishmash of content, stitched together by some invisible algorithm.

In the hallowed halls of the Costume Center, a sweatsuit by Fear of God shares the same thread as an ensemble by ERL; a lingerie set by Savage X Fenty is as glamorous as a Charles James gown; Halston and Hood by Air are treated with equal significance.

Bolton reaches for inclusion, a move that, to Eugene Rabkin, rings hollow, considering the ills that plague American politics — but to me, it's a welcome change.

In a sense, the show's lineup mimics the Instagram Explore Page experience: on mine, an up-and-comer will land next to an industry giant, followed by a paparazzi shot of Ben Affleck and a polaroid by Andy Warhol, succeeded by a photo of Lil Nas X's latest publicity stunt. (And so on and so forth.)

It's this cross-cultural exchange — an American ideal that, admittedly, our country imperfectly grapples with — that Bolton successfully captures with his careful curation.

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In America: A Lexicon of Fashion

September 18, 2021 - September 5, 2022

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10028

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