Accessories and Fashion Go High Camp at the Met’s Latest Costume Exhibit

By Lauren Parker

 The Met Gala’s Red Carpet parade has come and gone, and surely you’ve seen the paparazzi photos of Katy Perry as a chandelier, Cardi B as a literal red carpet and half the attendees looking as if they had a pillow fight with a million maribou feathers.

 Campy enough for you?

 At least we finally know the definition, which had so baffled celebs that many reportedly sat out the event this year. But what is camp, exactly? According to the items on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute’s Spring 2019 exhibition, Camp: Notes on Fashion, camp is feathered swan dresses, necklaces shaped like shower faucets, shoes made from money and mink, a little black dress self-declaring itself a “Little Black Dress”, and top hats made from human hair. Camp is the “posturing dandy.” Camp is gender-bending subculture. Camp is Cher. And Elton John. Camp is high-low mashups. Camp is a subversion of modern aesthetic values. Camp is a lot of feathers.

 In other words, camp is just right for the fashion industry right now. And more mainstream than ever.

 “Camp’s disruptive nature and subversion of modern aesthetic values has often been trivialized, but this exhibition reveals that it has had a profound influence on both high art and popular culture,” said Max Hollein, Director of The Met.

The exhibit was inspired by Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on Camp,” and it explores how irony, humor, parody, pastiche, artifice, theatricality and exaggeration are expressed in fashion. Overall, “Camp: Notes on Fashion” features approximately 250 objects, including womenswear and menswear, plus sculptures, paintings and drawings dating from the 17th century to the present.

Gallery View, The Psychopathology of Affluence. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hilty

To help people understand the definition of camp, quotes are peppered through the exhibit placards, and spoken over the sound system (amid Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”). A few: “Camp is tarting up ideas in costume jewelry.” –Alan Brien, 1961;

“Camp is cultural slumming.” – Mark Booth, 1983;

“Camp is the artifact past its prime.” – Caryl Flinn, 1995;

“Camp transforms what was ugly yesterday into today’s object of aesthetic pleasure.” – Umberto Eco, 2007


Gallery View, Accessories Case. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hilty

Accessories are particularly ripe to dip one’s toe into the camp aesthetic (unless you’re Lady Gaga, it’s much easier to, say, wear a fun inflatable hat than a full-on inflatable dress), and a bold accessories section bore this out perfectly.

There was a fun mix of jewelry, shoes, handbag, headpieces and wigs, many created by labels at the show, and some by accessories-specific designers.

Here, a look at just a few of the truly experimental accessories featured at the show:

Giles Deacon, Ostrich feathered headpiece

Moschino patent leather ironing handbag

Stephen Jones Millinery for John Galliano inflatable lips hat

Karl Lagerfeld for Chloe showerhead necklace and knob earrings.

Pam Hogg Marie Antoinette-inspired headpiece.

Balenciaga Crocs

Gareth Pugh “penny dress” and ankle bracelet and Moschino money dress and matching shoes.

Phoebe Philo for Celine mink shoe and heel.

“Camp: Notes on Fashion” runs May 9 through September 8, 2019, sponsored by Gucci and its campy, maximalist creative director Alessandro Michele.

Noor Nanda