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If the internet could issue a collective gasp, there certainly would have been an intake of breath when Lupita Nyong'o walked onto the Met Gala red carpet last night in a feathered, beaded, mesh green Prada dress. Nyong'o, a newly-crowned fashion darling, has made nary a misstep when it comes to wardrobe. The dress code for the Gala was ultra-formal and women adhered with massive, full-skirted ballgowns. How could she have picked something so...wrong?, many wondered. Hands were wrung; teeth were gnashed.
But what if all the online fashion commenters and the outraged masses on Twitter were wrong about Nyong'o's choice? What if it was selected to convey a very subtle message about history and the Gala's celebrated designer, Charles James? As Booth Moore of the Los Angeles Times points out, in his heyday Charles James dressed society matrons, WASPs, the upper crust. During James' time, women like Nyong'o "certainly wouldn't have been privy to Charles James designs." The Prada dress that the actress selected instead conjured images of African American showgirl Josephine Baker. It was "like something [she] would have worn in James' era, when she fled segregated America for fame and fortune in France," writes Moore.
During her time in the spotlight, Nyong'o has again and again come across as thoughtful, deliberate, and unerringly polite. During her Oscars speech, she opened by saying, "It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's." She is conscious of history. According to Baker's bio, the NAACP named May 20 Josephine Baker Day in honor of her efforts to combat racism. The timing could not be better.
But perhaps we're over thinking this. In an interview with Andre Leon Talley for Vogue, Nyong'o simply says that she saw the dress and loved it. Maybe she just wanted to take a break from the serious side of fashion for one night.
· Met Costume Institute Gala: Beyond fashion indeed [LAT]
· Why You Should GAF About the Met's Charles James Exhibit [Racked]