The Problem With The Met Gala’s Catholic Fashion Show


Tonight’s Met Gala offered a wide array of dazzling costumes, from the divinely inspired to the profane, along this year’s theme, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” As far as titles goes, I might have preferred “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Logical Deduction of the Nature of Reality,” but this semantic quibble aside, the theme and pun seemed an improvement over recent years’ alternately bland and frivolous topics like “China: Through the Looking Glass” and “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity.” As Chesterton observed, “The Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar.” Nothing about the Catholic faith is bland.

Rihanna, Donatella Versace, Amal Clooney, and Stephen and Christine Schwarzmann hosted the gala, considered the most significant fashion event of the year. Some costumes shined, such as Katy Perry’s seraphic gown, replete with six-foot-long wings. Some get-ups, like antipope Rihanna’s bejeweled mitre, drew more laughter than awe. Still others, such as Lena Waithe’s gay pride flag cape, provoked mere eye-rolls, although a charitable observer might conclude the actress wanted to evoke Joseph’s coat of many colors. (“Yeah, that’ll show the Curia!”)

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Cultural conservatives should rejoice at the theme of the annual Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute fundraiser. The Catholic aesthetic is the artistic essence of Western civilization, and Catholic faithful including Michelangelo, Dante, Raphael, and even artists with last names have produced the most beautiful art in history. The sad fact of the gala is that the very civilization produced by the Catholic Church now dons crucifixes for costume rather than devotion. This is the opposite of the “cultural appropriation” complaint. Catholics can handle the sight of some disrespectful costumes. Pilate’s soldiers humiliated Christ himself by dressing him in a scarlet robe and capping him with a crown of thorns, and early Christians became lion food in circus rings and theaters. The problem is not that secular stars have appropriated Catholic culture; the trouble is they have not appropriated the Catholic cult.

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If the Met Gala had taken for its theme “the Apostolic Age” or “the late medieval Church,” the bedazzled cassocks and blinged-out albs would cause no consternation. Clothing that has fallen out of fashion becomes costume. But modernity has not merely supplanted sartorial trends. It has hollowed Western culture itself into a husk — grotesque on the outside, empty within. The Met Gala considers as costume the faith that fashioned the West, as modernity threatens to slip into a new, dark age.

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