This morning at 8am over our oat milk coffees, my partner and I – both fashion and vintage aficionados – scrolled through the Vogue website to analyse our favourite looks from yesterday’s Karl Lagerfeld themed Met Gala. 

We concluded that overall, we tended to prefer the looks on the men than on the women. Don’t get me wrong, the women had some killer looks – my partner and I particularly loved anything by Thom Browne with Jenna Ortega and Janelle Monae’s Browne looks being standout. 

Nevertheless, our favourite look of the night was Brian Tyree Henry dressed in Karl Lagerfeld. Not only was the look gorgeous but it made so many poignant statements amidst such elegance. Tyree Henry is a Black actor whose roles often embody the far end spectrum of masculinity. My partner and I are huge fans of the show Atlanta in which Henry plays arguably his most famous role as “Paper Boi” , a hyper masculine rapper from Atlanta who is involved in gang violence and even imprisoned at some points in the show. In contrast to this hyper masculine figure, the real Tyree Henry adorns an ultra androgynous look for the Gala which sees feminine frills and lace juxtapose a hard, strong suit. The look is right on theme and quintessentially monochrome á la Lagerfeld.   

However, my partner and I found ourselves disappointed and rather lonely in our opinion. Despite Henry’s look being hugely out of his usual comfort zone and the styling being impeccable, social media and press seemed to largely ignore the creativity and brilliant execution of this look. Instead, headlines focus on Bad Bunny’s Jacquemus suit, Dua Lipa in a vintage Chanel gown and Pedro Pascal in a red and black Valentino shirt, shorts and coat. Various articles even wrote more on celebrities who were not there; Timothée Chalamet, Harry Styles, Bella Hadid, Zendaya and Tom Holland tend to be the focus here. 

“Well, I’m not surprised,” said my partner. “He’s a plus size, dark skinned Black man, of course he isn’t going to get as much credit for being androgynous. I love Bad Bunny but he wore a white suit at the end of the day, same goes for Pascal and Dua Lipa literally just wore a beautiful dress. They looked great but the execution isn’t on Brian’s level. That’s colourism for you.” My partner is a 27 year old black man and he makes a very valid point. I can’t help but feel as if Timothée Chalamet had worn the exact same outfit – frills, collar and all – there would be multiple headlines and thousands of fan accounts swooning over him. He would be drowning in our feeds is what I am trying to say. That just isn’t the case for Henry or even Burna Boy who looked incredibly elegant and dapper, dressed in cobalt blue and black Burberry. 

Interestingly, I just typed “Met Gala 2023” into Google Images and you don’t see a black man until the 7th row and that black man is ASAP Rocky on the arm of Rihanna. The next Black man who appears is Burna Boy who doesn’t show up until the 13th row of images…
What does that say regarding the role the Black man plays in the fashion industry in 2023? It also nods heavily to the increased pressures of masculinity placed on black men in comparison to white men and even men of other ethnicities. Can the black man celebrate fashion to the same extent as everyone else and most importantly can he be credited for his creativity in the same why his white or light skinned equivalent seems to be? Sadly, it seems that the answer is no, not for now while society still holds damagingly colourist standards (Lagerfeld himself ironically made various racist and colourist statements in his career – see our article from yesterday).  

The greatest irony here is that, arguably, the androgyny looks sported and celebrated by the likes of Chalamet and Harry Styles were pioneered by queer black men. Ten years ago almost all mens fashion was largely ignored on the red carpet. Men would turn up in almost identical suits. Thankfully, there are several figures who are responsible for changing that and one name that cannot be ignored belongs to a dark skinned, older, queer Black man; Billy Porter. Several of Porter’s Met Gala looks – from a floor length gowned tuxedo to a golden winged look for Heavenly Bodies – literally changed the game in regards to how men were received on all red carpets, let alone the Met Gala. Lil Nas X – another dark skinned queer Black man – is another figure whose ass-exposing chaps, C3PO style armour and golden gowns stepped up the pussy of men’s fashion at the Met and beyond. Despite these strides being made by black men, the men whose fashion is celebrated and are praised for their bravery in choosing to be daring and feminine tend to be conventionally slim, attractive and white or light skinned; Pascal, Bad Bunny, Styles, Chalamet, Holland. 

We aren’t saying for a second that these men shouldn’t be celebrated and of course in an ideal world fashion would be fashion regardless of race or shade. Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a world and it would be nice if fashion gave the Black men his flowers, especially when he turns up looking like Brian Tyree Henry in Karl Lagerfeld… 

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