The 2018 Met Gala took place last week on Monday, May 7. Formally known as the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit, it is a black-tie event for some of the most famous names in the world of fashion, film, politics, and business. This event raises money for the Costume Institute of the Met, and is held annually on the first Monday in May to accompany the opening of that year’s fashion exhibition. This year’s exhibit follows the theme “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” While guests at the Gala are not required to dress for the theme, it is highly encouraged, and many celebrities rose to the challenge. They incorporated Catholic themes and elements into their outfits, all of which carry a rich history to be celebrated. Here are some of the motifs that made their way across Monday’s red carpet, and the story behind them.
This pointy hat called a mitre is worn during liturgical celebrations by bishops and the Pope, though it is taken off during the consecration of the Eucharist to show humility. Sources are split as to the origin of the mitre. Some claim that it is based on the fish-shaped head covering wore by pagan priests worshipping the fish god Dagon in ancient Philistine and Babylon. Others say that the mitre is of Roman origin; it developed parallel to the papal tiara as a descendant of the camauro, a red velvet or wool hat with white ermine trim that the pope would wear when it was too cold for a zucchetto, or skull cap. A camauro looks something like a modern beanie mixed with a Santa hat, while a zuchetto is the flat looking headpiece Pope Francis is wearing here.
Mantilla / Veil (Nicki Minaj, Kate Bosworth, Priyanka Chopre)
Chapel veils, also known as mantillas, have been worn by Christian women since the early days of the Church. The word mantilla comes from the Spanish word “manta,” which means cape. Veils are used for modesty, so that the focus is placed on the beauty of God rather than a woman’s physical beauty; mantillas also emulate the Blessed Mother. They also reflect the role of women as a vessel who bears life. During the Mass, the chalice which holds the blood of Christ is veiled until the gifts are prepared, and the tabernacle which holds the Eucharist is veiled between Masses. The act of veiling gives dignity to that which carries life within it.
Prior to Vatican II, all women were required to wear a mantilla when attending Mass. Since then, it is not longer required, but many women choose to veil at Mass or in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament to show reverence.
Halo (Amber Heard, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, SZA, among others)
A halo is thought to show the divine light of God radiating from a soul, so it is often used in art to indicate holiness. They are sometimes ornamented with beams to show that they are illuminating light. Scholars point out that in the early Christian art of the 4th century, even Jesus was not depicted with a halo before His baptism, because it was debated whether His Divine nature was innate from His birth, or manifested at His baptism. As time went on, halos were used to indicate particularly pious humans as well, such as Mary and the Apostles, though these halos are typically plain gold circles without embellishment.
Stained Glass (Gigi Hadid)
Stained glass has a very long history. It has been used in religious buildings since as early as the first century. Since most members of the congregation were illiterate, stained glass would portray Biblical stories and themes in a captivating way to aid in education. One of the oldest known examples of a stained glass window was found in the buried ruins of a monastery in Jarrow, England. The window belonged to St. Paul’s Monastery, which was founded in 686 AD. The religious applications of stained glass peaked with the magnificent churches and monasteries being built in the Gothic and Renaissance periods, though they fell out of prominence for some time after that. In recent times, efforts to revive and reinstate this craft have produced beautiful works.
Iconography (Darren Criss, Stella Maxwell)
Iconography is a mainly Orthodox tradition that was started by St. Luke the Evangelist. He painted images of Mary and brought them to her. She approved and blessed them, imparting the grace of her Son onto the images. Since then, other sacred images have been produced of Jesus, Mary, and various saints. These images are held in very high esteem; they are considered to be “windows to heaven.” Even the creation of an icon is regarded as a sacred and prayerful experience. Icons often feature a gold background and a flat, geometric art style, symbolizing the abstract yet ordered nature of heaven in our human understanding.
These are just some of the Catholic symbols that were featured in outfits worn at the Met Gala. Many other designers found inspiration from the faith and featured those ideas in their pieces. All of this was in preparation for the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit, which opened on May 10 in New York City.