A lot of fashion pundits, writers and commentators — myself included — love reminding everyone that fashion is not merely about covering up; it’s a reflection of the times. This fact was in spectacular display at Monday’s Met Gala.
As predicted, from the early hours of Tuesday morning after this year’s event, the internet was up in arms over celebrities and public figures apparently not knowing how to interpret red-carpet themes. Behind the safety of our smartphone screens and virtual identities, we can all do better. But that’s a story for another day.
The theme this year was Gilded Glamour, and many walked the red carpet in Regency-era styles — crisp taffeta in princess silhouettes, high necklines, empire waistlines and ornate detailing.
Regencycore maximalism or else
You might not have heard the term “regencycore”, but you certainly can’t miss that the old is now new. It’s perhaps one of the most visible cultural trends of the moment. I say “cultural”, because the trend — with its empire waists, corsets, puff-sleeves and the like — is not just having a moment in celebrity fashion.
Women's Wear Daily (WWD) is reporting that online searches for items related to the trend have gone up significantly since about two years ago. Indeed, many fashion pundits are attributing the return of Regency-era and turn-of-the-century fashion trends to the popularity of television dramas like Bridgerton’and HBO’s The Gilded Age, which has just concluded its first season.
If online conversations are anything to go by, everyone from Kim Kardashian to our very own Sarah Langa — who was dragged for wearing a cap at a Bridgerton-themed event recently — should have stayed home. Fans don’t take too kindly to their favourite stars only taking hints from a particular era. In this case, they want regencycore maximalism in all its glory, or else!
If online conversations are anything to go by, everyone from Kim Kardashian to our very own Sarah Langa should have stayed home.
Luckily, one of the favourites at this year’s Met, Quannah Chasinghorse, avoided Twitter scorn in a turquoise tulle dress paired with traditional indigenous adornments, the result of her and designer Prabal Gurung’s intent on making sure she represents her Hän Gwich’in and Oglala Lakota heritage.
It’s a standout look that doesn’t detract from the theme, but highlights an obvious truth about the period in question. Her people did not share in the spoils of the rapid economic growth in the US at the time. It wasn’t a gilded age for them, so by playing to the theme while reminding us that her people were around and forgotten by history, she deservedly won hearts and a place among the evening’s best dressed.
Similarly, actor Riz Ahmed came looking particularly out of place and many missed the fact that he nailed the theme by contradicting the expected opulence of Regency-era fashion trends.
He was understated in a work coat, white tank top and rubber boots. “This is an homage to the immigrant workers who kept the Gilded Age going,” he said when walking the red carpet.
An age of opulence and abject poverty
See, what we know as the Gilded Age is not just defined by the expansion of industrialisation, the thriving upper crust and the acquisition of wealth, giving rise to New York high society. This image of opulence is what’s burnished in most minds when such a theme is even mentioned, but it was also an era of rampant immigration, abject poverty and inequality no different to where we are today.
There are many reasons why the regencycore trend is popular right now, beyond just Bridgerton and other TV shows like it. Vogue.com notes the shift towards sustainability, which is creating a new appetite for vintage, as one.
That’s all fun, as fashion should be, but it gets more interesting when the trends and event themes are subverted and not merely adhered to.
If fashion does reflect the times, we have the Met Gala, Miss Chasinghorse and Riz Ahmed to thank for reminding us that the eras from which fashion trends come do not bear the same experience for everyone.