Stanescu-Bellu: Fashionably Unconventional

The Met Gala shows that we are afraid to abandon convention.

by Sofia Stanescu-Bellu | 5/4/17 12:25am

The Met Gala is arguably fashion’s biggest night. It’s an event where attendees are expected to abandon traditional conventions and be creative with their outfits, presenting their interpretation on the night’s theme. This year’s theme, “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” had the potential to be amongst the most innovative to date.

The theme celebrates Rei Kawakubo, one of the most influential designers of the 20th and 21st centuries, and her high fashion line, Comme des Garçons. Through the line, which is known for mixing fashion and art, Kawakubo famously rejects normal clothing design rules in favor of challenging the viewer’s perception of what defines fashion, beauty and identity. The New York Times puts it best: Her designs are “outrageous, radical and beautiful,” from fur to feathers to cartoon-like dresses to sculpture-esque outfits. Guests at this year’s Met Gala were encouraged to embrace the avant-garde. Did they? Not really.

There were a few looks that stuck with the theme, but the vast majority of the gala’s attendees wore safe, conventional looks — long ball gowns and the staple black tuxedos. Unfortunately, the Met Gala guests decided to forgo an homage to Kuwakubo’s innovative style in favor of the chance to make it on the “Best Dressed” list. Instead of being critiqued and picked apart by professional and amateur fashion critics alike, they chose to be lauded for an outfit that could have been worn at any event.

At first glance, I was critical of the avant-garde looks. I found some of them to be ridiculous and unflattering. On second glance, I began to appreciate the unabashed confidence needed to wear such outfits. However, attendees are expected to be bold, yet few were. If it’s this difficult to go against the grain at an event where going against the grain is celebrated, rejecting the status quo in the real world is even more difficult.

At Dartmouth, over 50 percent of a typical graduating class will go into finance or consulting. We live in an environment where this status quo is perpetuated daily — recruiting events, campus job fairs, clubs, pre-professional programs and internships favor those two fields above any other. If finance or consulting is your dream job, Dartmouth has you covered. Pursue the standard and respectable goals of being financially stable and successful in these fields, and your effort will be rewarded here. There is nothing inherently wrong with this mindset; everyone should be allowed to pursue whatever career they choose. An issue arises when this mindset marginalizes students interested in other careers.

I am guilty of passing judgment on people when I hear they’re pursuing non-traditional career choices. I tend to jump to the conclusion that someone might not be successful because they’re not pursuing a career that is known to be lucrative or stereotypically successful. I’m not proud of this.

Instead of criticizing our peers for pursuing their dreams and having the courage to do what they love by ignoring Dartmouth’s status quo, we should embrace and encourage their goals. Just like the stars at the Met Gala who dressed conservatively to receive praise instead of judgment, a campus majority that is finance- and consulting-focused might implicitly discourage the pursuit of other passions for fear of not being “successful.”

Success is subjective. For some, it lies in money or in having a strong group of family and friends and for others, success is doing what they love. We need not abandon the idea that success and money are correlated, nor should we aim to minimize the number of students going into finance and consulting — it would be hypocritical of me to say so. I’m arguing for the celebration of the nontraditional and the embrace of the bold. Those who do what they love and have the courage to defy norms should be lauded.

As Kawakubo said, “the fundamental human problem is that people are afraid of change.” We are afraid of being unique because criticism drowns out support, but if everyone is scared to be different, society won’t progress. So be bold. It may not be what everyone else is doing, but homogeneity is boring.