What Is Camp Fashion? My Visit to the Costume Institute

My favorite red carpet isn’t at an awards show. I LOVE the Met Gala and the accompanying exhibition. The Met Gala is an annual fundraising gala for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City, and the event marks the opening of the Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibit. It starts in May and ends anytime between August and early October, and I make it a habit to travel to New York City to see it every summer. If you ever get the chance, definitely check it out.

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Every year, I can’t wait to see what theme they choose. My favorite was Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2011. This year’s theme was Camp: Notes on Fashion. I admit…it kind of stumped me. What do they mean by “Camp” exactly? Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay Notes on Camp was the inspiration. Once I looked it up and did some research, I couldn’t wait to see it. The very first definition of the term was in 1909 and appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. It was indicative of the contemporary notions of camp: “ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual…”

However, to Sontag, camp transcended homosexual mannerisms. “The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance,” she wrote in her essay. She described camp a being playful and “anti-serious,” as well as exaggerated and artificial. She had this analogy: “Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.” So what does this mean where fashion is concerned? It’s something that is fun, over the top, that wouldn’t go unnoticed. The exhibit did not disappoint. It’s probably my new favorite. Remember Bjork’s swan dress by Marjan Pejoski? It was there and so fun to see in person.

I loved this exhibit because it embodies everything I love most about fashion: it should be fun. You’d be surprised how you can bring “camp” fashion into your daily life. Are you going to go to a local gala wearing a swan dress? Of course not…but you can have a bit of this in your life. I’ll show you that in the next article. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite “campy” looks.

 

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