Day Late, Dollar Short: The Met Gala That Wasn’t

The first Monday of May was yesterday, which in normal circumstances would have meant staying up until the small hours, poring over incoming pictures from the Met Ball and then deeply analysing them the next day with a colleague at work. Don’t get me wrong – the sun did rise again this morning so the absence of the Costume Institute Gala did not stop the world from turning. Got me reminiscing, though.

The Met Ball is a celebration of art and fashion, and has a theme each year (last year’s was camp). Everything is orchestrated by Anna Wintour and everything is over the top, because there’s no other kind for the fashion people. This is likely to change in the future, though. Wintour herself hinted at something like that already in an interview. What seemed like fun and extravagant last May just comes across grotesque and out of place today.

Balenciaga’s campy version of Crocs, which, seen today, just remind me of the nurses working on the frontline, often wearing Crocs or similar shoes to their endless shifts. Photo from the MET Camp exhibition last year.

Not everything must be OTT, even at the Met Gala. Former J. Crew-chief Jenna Lyons is an excellent example of wearable Met Gala outfits. True, the following pictures are not from the last years when the outfits went absolutely into (hilarious) overdrive – surely you have seen the pictures of Jared Leto, clad in Gucci, carrying around a remake of his head? but serve as timeless examples of elegant underdressing.

Herewith some of my favourites.

Cashmere sweater. Just add feathers.
One of the more iconic dressed down -styles from the Met history, and a perfect nod to the preppy J.Crew.
Athleisure, but make it fashion. Photo credit: Does Pinterest count?
Lyons matching outfits with Jennifer Konner and Lena Dunham. Photo credit @Bestimage.

While the above outfits do not scream fashion as such, they are all pretty wearable and include element or two that many of us might already have at the ready. (What am I talking about – at the ready for what? Taking out the trash?)

Lyons is an apt example for this feature for the reason that we might see more pared down and recycled fashion in the coming months. It also so happens that J.Crew, the preppy clothes-giant which Lyons (almost) single-handedly made cool at its helm for over a decade (she left the company in 2017) filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday and thus became one of the larger Covid- caused fashion roadkills.

The third reason I wanted to commemorate Lyons’ Met Ball outfits was her openness about the hard landing that followed her departure from J.Crew. In a recent (pre-Covid) podcast she was extremely candid about having let a job, in her case a company, become her identity over the years.
As the host probed “well you must have been showered with job offers left and right” Lyons would shrug “No, I really wasn’t. I wasn’t getting any offers.”

I had to look in the mirror and be like, oh, I’m not being invited because I’m not doing anything. That’s really hard. Like, a hard reflection. But it was good for me, it was super humbling. I didn’t have a sense of whether I had any real value outside of the company and that was terrifying. So for me, having the process of trying to find a new path and understanding do I sit in a meeting and have anything to offer? That has been the best thing I ever did. I didn’t believe I had anything to offer for the first two years – I just sat on my couch.”

These are the kind of reflections we do not hear all that often, and that’s why they are gold. Most successful people like to do press only after they have secured their next big move, and thus paint a very biased picture of their career paths. It’s all part of the personal brand management, of course, but insisting on appearing as a superhuman in the the media gives a very one-dimensional picture and given the current turmoil, might have seen its peak.

There will be countless reflections by professionals, regardless of their line of business or seniority, in the aftermath of the pandemic. Traditional superhero-stories might not reach the kind of audience they did during the period of economic growth when absolutely everything was possible, nothing was enough and becoming wildly successful only depended on one’s willpower.

I like to think that Lyons might have been, unbeknownst to her, a trailblazer not only in wearable fashion, but in setting the tone for the CEO/successful person-talk of the future: more honesty, more openness, more humility.


(I do apologise for the wonky analogy, but do distract yourself by marvelling at the beaded cauliflower headpiece.)

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