The Costume Institute Gala, fondly nicknamed the “Met Gala,” is an annual party where big name fashion-types cavort with each other to celebrate the next fashion exhibit at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Met Gala took place two weeks ago on May 7th, and like all awards shows, elicited a flurry of “Best Dressed! Worst Dressed! Not Dressed at all!” lists, where so-called fashion experts passed completely arbitrary judgment on celebrity outfit choices. One who fell into the latter category was Marc Jacobs, who arrived wearing a black lace dress by Comme des GarÃ§ons with a glaring pair of white boxer shorts underneath. Marc has a fondness for Comme dresses, so his clothing choice was not necessarily out of character, yet he was still labeled the “most controversial” at the Met Ball for his act of genderfuckery.
Some referred to him as a “pilgrim with loose morals,” while others lamented he “could have at least worn BLACK underwear.” Despite the fact that we were one thin layer of cotton away from glimpsing his package, Jacobs didn’t make a big deal out of it: “I just didn’t want to be boring and wear a tuxedo.”
I think Marc’s outfit choice was fantastic, and considering the dress he wore is now sold out everywhere, so did everyone else. The dress had high visual impact, showed off his toned body, and was designed by the Queen of Conceptual, Comme des Garcons’ Rei Kawakubo. Sounds like a solid outfit choice to me.
Ironically enough, it was Beyonce who was lauded as the best-dressed of the evening. She wore a sheer dress with black lace and feathers by Givenchy Haute Couture– albeit with a nude bodysuit underneath. It was a bold choice for the new mom of Blue Ivy Carter, but she took a gamble by wearing a sheer dress and hit the freaking jackpot. Beyonce looked like a goddess (OK fine, Beyonce always looks like a goddess) and was not booed, but applauded for her sheer confidence.
So let us pay homage to the daring celebrities who came before Marc and Beyonce, those who paved the way for celebrities to go naked in public. It all started way back in 1969, when Barbra Streisand wore a sparkly bell bottom pantsuit to accept her Oscar for Best Actress for her debut role in Funny Girl. The pantsuit was a bold choice with built-in modesty panels — it was the 1960s, after all – but when the bright lights shined on the pantsuit, all you could see was shimmer and skin.
Barbra was dressed quite demurely compared to the next batch of nearly-naked celebrities who appeared in the late 1990s and beyond. Rose McGowan literally bared all at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards in a dress made of sparkly mesh netting, her perfect ass covered only by errant strings of fabric. Her date was then-boyfriend Marilyn Manson, who matched his outfit to Rose’s thong, wearing a leopard print suit. You couldn’t take your eyes off her, as she sashayed down the red carpet with far more dignity than those who couldn’t look away. No doubt the red carpet was covered in paparazzi drool by the end of the night.
A year later, Lil Kim played peek-a-boob in a one-shouldered purple pantsuit to match her purple hair at the 1999 MTV VMAs. The pantsuit only covered half of her chest, and completely exposed her left breast, which was accessorized with a sequin flower nipple pasty. Kim was confident and funny on the red carpet, and described her intentions; “I just thought I’d do something that said ‘look at her’.” Kim looked so good, that Diana Ross even fondled her boob for half a second. It’s only surprising that Nicki Minaj hasn’t managed to work in a diss about this outfit into one of her songs yet.
Gwyneth Paltrow showed up to the 2002 Oscars wearing a floor-length black gown with a sheer bodice and no bra. The dress was designed by the show-stopping Alexander McQueen, whose garments should not be worn by the faint of heart. Poor Gwyneth’s boobs were lambasted for being saggy, but I think that’s just called gravity, folks. Gwynnie stuck to her guns and maintained that she loved the dress, even if nobody else did. Never let criticism get in the way of a good outfit.
Uma Thurman showed a half-moon at the 2007 Swarovski Fashion Rocks concert in London, England wearing a frothy Valentino confection that was eerily similar to Streisand’s pantsuit from 38 years earlier. She looked every inch the classic blonde beauty she is, and kept her dignity intact– just not her ladybits. Thurman has admitted to suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder ever since the birth of her first child, so one hopes this dress helped alleviate her self-perception of fatness.
These days, Rihanna is the new badass in down and her 2011 Grammy dress was both demure and sexy. It was a full-length Jean Paul Gaultier with horizontal stripes of tulle that strategically censored her nipples and crotch. This dress was no accident and I think she may have stumbled upon the algorithm for what makes someone glamorously sexy, but not accidentally so.
With all these nearly-nude celebrities strutting their stuff and looking damn fine while doing it, even I’m tempted to show up in public minus crucial items of clothing. Maybe I won’t look as good as Beyonce, but at least I won’t get arrested– it’s legal for both men and women to go topless in Ontario!
Isabel Slone is a Toronto-based fashion blogger and writer. Follow her on Twitter at @isabelslone.