The Gilded Glamour Met Gala Was a Fantasia of Inequality

“When you heard that the theme was ‘Gilded Glamour,’ what did that mean to you?”

“I honestly didn’t really think about it,” Kourtney Kardashian laughed in response to red carpet correspondent Lala Anthony, looking down at her Thom Browne ensemble.

Regardless of Kardashian’s forethought, her presence was perfectly pertinent to this week’s Met Gala. The first Monday in May was the 74th annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, which produces fashion exhibits in concert with publisher Condé Nast’s Vogue magazine.

Over the years, the New York City event has garnered hundreds of millions of dollars for the museum, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in “media impact value” each time. One of the most coveted, expensive invitations in town – tables cost several hundred thousand dollars – the Gala’s red carpet is reputation-making and prestige-vaunting, graced by everyone from billionaires like Elon Musk to nepotism babies like Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz and rising stars across all creative industries.

To commemorate the second exhibit in a two-part celebration of American fashion, Vogue’s head honcho Anna Wintour prescribed the “Gilded Glamour” theme, askingattendees “to embody the grandeur — and perhaps the dichotomy — of Gilded Age New York.” The magazine characterized the period as “one of unprecedented prosperity, cultural change, and industrialization, when both skyscrapers and fortunes seemingly arose overnight” – yet made little mention of how Gilded Age glitz veiled rampant destitution.

The booming, speculative economy and its bosses’ greed forced millions of new immigrants and people of color into grueling work to survive. The first Gilded Agewas our country’s most unequal period – until now.

Bella DeVaan is an Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies. You can follow her on Twitter at @bdevaan.