Vintage looks rule the red carpet at the Met Gala

As of Monday night’s Met Gala, all of fashion’s hottest outfits have one thing in common: They’re vintage.

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen arrived in a white sequin Chanel ensemble: a column of white sequins and ribbons of tulle, under a voluminous gown of tulle and feathers. It was a chic spring 2007 look, but also something Bündchen has worn before, in a spread from Vogue Korea that same year. She was inspired by…herself!

Bündchen wasn’t the only attendee to repeat the look. Nicole Kidman wore a peachy, feather-embellished gown designed by Karl Lagerfeld for a Baz Luhrmann-directed Chanel ad in 2004, in which Kidman runs through Times Square and hops in a random car for a “Roman Vacation” — a few days as a great nobody (played by Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro).

As Kidman reached for the dress, a working breakdown of the Zoomers popped up on my Twitter feed. The dress was never seen in public—it wasn’t a runway creation, but Lagerfeld made it for advertising—and the idea that she was bringing “to life” a dress she wore to play a fictional, thinly veiled version of herself was a charming wink into the layers of celebrity and the role-play that fashion creates.

The “archival fashion,” or “archival fashion,” as it’s often known, was the biggest topic of the night. Dua Lipa, Margot Robbie, Penelope Cruz, Huma Abedin, and Suki Waterhouse all wore vintage pieces by the late designer, from his years spent designing at Chanel and Fendi, respectively. Chloe’s designer, Gabriela Hearst, paid tribute to her predecessor (Lagerfeld designed Chloe from 1963-1983 and from 1992-1997) by dressing her, Olivia Wilde, Maude Apatow and Vanessa Kirby at Chloe in the ’80s looks featured in the show. THEY ARE FUNNY, FUNNY DRESSES – Have you heard of the woman whose sequined gown was actually a shower head?! – and a reminder of the place of intelligence in Lagerfeld’s work.

But it’s also a great way for Hearst, who pays homage to sustainability in her eponymous line and in Chloe’s, to remind us that clothes are meant to be worn again and again, for years to come. And ideally, it delivers.

Runway designs from seasons past—sometimes from decades ago, sometimes just a few years ago—have been red-carpet flops for a few years now. Kim Kardashian was one of the first to wear an elegant Alexander McQueen dress from spring 2003 to the Vanity Fair Oscars after party in 2020; Cate Blanchett has made it her habit over the past several months to re-wear or rework her old red carpet looks.

Brands from Valentino to Raf Simons to Madewell have gathered ideas to get into the vintage market. One of the ads shown during Vogue’s live broadcast was a collaboration between the magazine and eBay. In the ad, rapper Ice Spice talks about the platform as a great place to shop for vintage design stuff.

But this year’s Met Gala reinforced that embracing vintage clothing now drives fashion, even at the highest levels of business and celebrities. For readers under 30, this remark will seem ridiculously obvious, even absurd. But not everyone is as quick to adapt to trends as Zoomers are, and changes in shopping and dressing habits—if any—will take a lot more than just celebrities showing us that our old clothes are things to appreciate.

It looks like the Met Gala 2023 you don’t want to miss

The Met Gala is great in part because it sets in stone a sneaky mood or idea that then reverberates for a few years to come. For example, the 2019 camp-themed show gave us a period of red-carpet wear that was so outlandish and performing so glamorous that we only just walked away from it. (This is why Jared Leto, dressed as a giant cat this year, looked so silly.)

You might say that the Lagerfeld exhibition may mark the true end of that era. Lagerfeld wasn’t fancy when it came to silhouettes, and even his most flashy creations were somehow wearable, mostly conservatively cut suits or dresses. Almost everyone on Monday night looked tolerably beautiful, even charming.

Karl Lagerfeld, and his problematic past, takes center stage at the Met Gala

Why booze now? The big message that Generation Z has brought into contemporary consumer culture is that old is better than new — an attitude that older generations would do well to embrace. Getting something from a thrift store or an online secondary market is preferable to something new. And the idea that something is not desirable for a season or two (which is the basis of fashion itself) has practically disappeared.

But it also shows how fashion, like much of popular culture, is steeped in re-creations of old moments, and seeking to evoke a bygone euphoria from a time that, because it happened in the past, is simply better. The TV shows are reboots of long-running ideas, the movies are all remakes or sequels, and the songs are an amalgam of modest decade-old successes. Even the new looks at Monday’s gala were nods to the old looks. We were numb with nostalgia, even for things that weren’t very good to begin with.

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