Met Gala is one of the most well-known fashion events people look forward to every year. However, the Met Gala is not just a fashion event but also a charity event produced by Anna Wintour every year since 1995. It usually takes place every first Monday of May, except last year when it occurred in September due to the pandemic. Every year, the event has a distinct theme and dress code, and visitors must dress in line with the published dress code.
The Met Gala 2022 was held on 2nd May 2022 in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. This year’s theme was “America: An Anthology of Fashion,” with a “White Tie & Gilded Glamour” dress code. “White tie and Gilded Glamour” was inspired by the fashion of America’s Gilded Age. According to Vogue, the idea of this theme and exhibition is to celebrate the “vitality and diversity” of American fashion.
The Gilded Age refers to the 30 years of innovation and cultural revolution from 1870 to 1900. American women of that era wore an embellished, exaggerated, and very structured fashion. Some of these include corsets, shoulder pads, and large accessories. Men’s clothing was also very formal, with a tuxedo that was newly popular in the 1880s and became traditional clothing for men from the upper class.
However, behind the prosperity shown by the fancy and glamorous fashion of the Gilded Age, it was also a time of significant economic inequality. While many families lived large during this time, many citizens suffered through unbearable conditions.
The Gilded Age
The Gilded Age is a period that began after the Civil War and was marked by the emergence of the industrialized economy, which is widely seen as a ‘high point’ in American history. During this time, America became more affluent and saw tremendous industrial and technological advancement. It was a period when American industry exploded, making several businesspeople enormously wealthy. As a result, Americans feel quite certain that they are the vanguard of civilization and progress. It was an enormous period of opportunity, possibility, and hope.
However, while the Gilded Age is recognized for its wealth, it also had a dark side: it was a time of greed, tremendous inequality, and corruption. Even the term “Gilded Age” comes from a satirical novel by Mark Twain released in 1873, and it is meant to convey that anything that seems golden on the surface may be corrupt underneath. The Gilded Age is commonly used to refer to the wealthy time between 1870 and 1900, which coincides with the latter half of the reconstruction following the Civil War.
Within a few years of the end of the war, the United States started to see tremendous economic development. While the industrial revolution began in Great Britain in the 18th century, it was not until the late 19th century that America underwent its most intensive development phase. In many respects, America has been poised for this extraordinary economic development spurt for a long time, gifted with a continent rich in valuable resources such as coal, oil, and a plethora of critical agricultural items.
Moreover, the United States grew considerably more urban as more tourists arrived, industries flourished, and many more towns and cities were strewn over the country. This was the age of the world’s first skyscrapers when buildings began to rise to new heights. Chicago was a magnificent metropolis of the time, becoming an important railroad center and a genuinely international city that drew people from all over the world.
The Age of Capital
The late 19th century was known as the “Age of Capital,” when affluent men invested in large-scale companies and benefited enormously. The American colonies were partly created by private businesses that received funds from investors, giving the United States a solid capitalist impulse early in its history. In the 19th century, the U.S. government maintained a pro-business position, encouraging private businesses to build the nation’s major infrastructure projects.
The increased chances for these types of private firms that came with industrialization resulted in America becoming the world’s leading capitalist power. The disadvantage of this economic boom was that the few people with enough money to invest in large-scale businesses tended to buy out most of their competitors. As a result, multiple giant monopolies arise quickly, suffocating the spirit of healthy competition. The most well-known and notorious of these big monopolies were the Rockefeller oil monopoly, the Vanderbilt railroad monopoly, and the Carnegie Steel monopoly.
A group of farmers known as the Granger Movement advocated for fairer pricing in reaction to the monopolies. The Granger Union would inspire the People’s Party and the Greenback Party, key progressive political parties that fought for fairer economic circumstances and more economic equality. During the Gilded Age, economic inequality was a big subject. Progressive workers’ organizations swept the industrialized globe in the late nineteenth century, aiming to provide ordinary people fairer hours, better pay, and safer working conditions in factories that frequently employed dangerous machinery. Unfortunately, many wealthy Americans have come to believe in social Darwinism, a philosophy that claims poor people deserve to be poor because they are born with a genetic disadvantage. As a result, tycoons did nothing to support their employees. Instead, they frequently require them to work harder for more extended periods of time to maximize productivity and profit earnings.
Many American employees formed unions in reaction to worsening working conditions, and the American Federation of Labor was created in 1886. Unfortunately, many went down a more extreme route, joining more socialist organizations and embracing anarchy. The U.S. government did nothing to help, continuously delaying laws to improve labor conditions. During the Gilded Age, tensions between workers and employers resulted in numerous grave tragedies.
An incident called The Haymarket riot in Chicago In 1886 resulted in a series of deaths as workers’ peaceful protest became violent. During the gathering, an unidentified attacker tossed a stick of dynamite into the crowd in order to harm a police officer. Many police officers and civilians were killed as a result of the violence. A few years later, in 1892, in Pittsburgh, a similar occurrence occurred. A group of Carnegie Steel employees and a detachment of private militiamen from the Pinkerton Agency, who had been hired to control the masses, clashed during the so-called Homestead Strike. During the demonstrations, a dissatisfied anarchist came close to assassinate Henry Frick, a loathed businessman who vigorously fought the unions.
The Gilded Age was not just a time of great economic disparity; it was also a time of awful race relations. During this time, Native Americans suffered immensely. During the Dakota Gold Rush in 1876, a fight broke out between the United States government and the Sioux nation, resulting in the country’s largest anti-Native American campaign. The last major Native American rebel movement, commanded by Geronimo of the Apache, was eventually defeated ten years later, in 1886. For African Americans, the Gilded Age was also a difficult time. Following the withdrawal of federal soldiers from the South in 1877, the African American people in the South lost much-needed government protection.
To make matters worse, the first segregation laws, known as Jim Crow, were enacted during the reconstruction period. The Law effectively classified Black Americans in the South as second-class citizens. Moreover, despite the 1875 Civil Rights Act providing certain protections against discrimination, the government repealed it in 1883. During this time, the massive flood of immigration also sparked a rise in nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment.
The Met Gala 2022 highlighted the ‘high point’ in America’s history by exploring the White Tie and Gilded Glamour and reflected the evolution of the American style. Although corruption, poor working conditions, and racial issues were prominent during the Gilded Age, it was also an enormous period of opportunity, possibility, and hope. Ultimately, the problems of the Gilded Age would lead to another great era in American history, the age of this grand age of wealth and expansion.
Penulis : Fahira Ardini
Reporter : Fahira Ardini
Editor : Fareez Eldacca
Foto : HBO, Wikimedia, History.com, Los Angeles Times, Library of Congress, The Granger Collection