The 2015 Met Gala Could Be A Minefield Of Cultural Appropriation

The Met Gala is almost upon us and this year’s theme sounds great in theory, but in practice, things could get ugly quick. Joining Anna Wintour as co-chairs this year are Jennifer Lawrence, Gong Li, Marissa Meyer and Wendy Deng — a healthy mix of diversity in age and ethnicity, but the theme. Oh, the theme. “China: Through the Looking Glass” — changed from “Chinese Whispers” — will be a night full of glamour and splendor and wonder and also possibly a lot of celebrities making really bad sartorial choices.

According to, the exhibit will “primarily examine how eastward looking Westerners have understood and misunderstood Chinese culture in an exchange that [curator Andrew] Bolton likens to a complicated game of telephone (which the British call ‘Chinese whispers’).” I have faith that Bolton is a smart man, who arranged the exhibit in a way that will actually reflect its theme. What I don’t feel so confident in is anyone attending Monday’s Gala actually taking the time to think this through before selecting their couture.

Last year’s theme,”Charles James: Beyond Fashion,” was a relief. Charles James was an American couturier, therefore everyone at the Met Gaga just showed up in their interpretation of American couture.


And 2013’s theme, “Punk: From Chaos To Couture,” was a little trickier, but resulted in a lot of torn and tattered black lace and some safety pins. Sure. This all works. No one was offended and everything was fine.

anne hathaway met ball

This year, however, everyone needs to tread carefully. I would like to think that the celebs, models and fashion folk in attendance all have handlers, someone who (Chinese) whispers into their ear about what they should and shouldn’t wear. Hair chopsticks? HARD PASS. Basically, if it looks like it could have come from the expensive rack at the Halloween store, please do not wear it.

Not only is it a bad look for you, the celebrity, to decide that it would be cute to dress like you’re in a high school production of “Flower Drum Song,” but could also send the power of Chinese social media after you. Do not underestimate the power of Weibo. If they made a Buzzfeed editor a micro-celebrity in a matter of weeks, they can certainly turn on whoever decides to show up to fashion’s biggest night of the year celebrating China dressed in a kimono (that’s Japanese, sweetie.

We have a cultural misappropriation problem anyway. From Coachella bindis to Urban Outfitters’ “tribal print” obsession to basically anything Katy Perry is currently or has done in her professional life, white people have been cherry-picking bits and bobs of other cultures without understanding why it’s simply not okay to do that. This year’s theme leads me to believe that we might be in for a fresh round, but I’m remaining hopeful.

It’s easy and lazy to reach for a qi pao, throw your hair up into a bun and draw on an exaggerated cat eye. Do your research. Put in the work to figure out who you could wear. Jason Wu dresses the First Lady and makes elegant, beautiful gowns that are perfect for this kind of event. Alexander Wang could and hopefully will design some health-goth, neoprene ballgown that Rihanna will wear with black lipstick and a scowl. This is the perfect opportunity to actually show some creativity and cultural sensitivity. I hear on good authority that the actual exhibit itself is beautiful, well-done and thoughtful, but the red carpet on Monday could very easily be a disaster. Let’s keep the faith and report back.


[Photo via Met Museum’s Instagram]