What Really Is Camp Fashion? | The Weekly Cut

For a weekly dosis of fashion & lifestyle news, special deals & more exciting content!

What do Katy Perry’s curious, yet fascinating human-chandelier look and Lady Gaga’s extravagant Brandon Maxwell’s pink gown have in common? Officially, nothing, but it seems like a thread did run through all of our favourite celebs’ looks at this year’s Met Gala, known as the cultural trope of: camp. And although we were all happily scrolling down our feeds and picking out our favourite looks as well as dissing the least appealing ones, we were left baffled by this year’s common theme.

The Met Gala is widely considered the biggest night in fashion, with celebrities walking down the red carpet with the most fascinating costumes. The annual event is a fundraiser for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York city, and this year, the event was co-chaired by Lady Gaga, Harry Styles, Serena Williams and Gucci’s creative director: Alessandro Michele.

Of course, part of what makes this event so entertaining for us viewers, watching it at home or catching up on the best looks the morning after, is the task of trying to  identify the way celebrities have interpreted the theme in their own and sometimes unique ways. While the word “camp” is likely to be interpreted as sitting by the campfire in a flannel shirt by the Oxford dictionary (and most of us) it seems like it isn’t exactly what camp is referring to in this case.

Camp style is anything that is exaggerated, extravagant and kitschy. These terms are all used to describe camp fashion, but the trend can also be somewhat subjective depending on the designer. What one person might interpret as camp, might not translate that same way for somebody else, and vice versa, so no wonder we were all confused about this!

Andrew Bolton, the head curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, has said that camp fashion, or camp sensibility, can be traced back to the French courts under Louis XIV who was known to throw a lot of events for the Parisian nobility who showed up in extravagant gowns. During a time where everything was focused around performance, it is said that it was a time of “high camp”. Bolton has also told the New York Times that today’s interpretation of camp has diverted towards an explosion of camp, therefore diverting to other types of styles such as pop camp, high camp, political camp etc.

“We are going through an extreme camp moment, and it felt very relevant to the cultural conversation to look at what is often dismissed as empty frivolity but can be actually a very sophisticated and powerful political tool, especially for marginalized cultures,” said Andrew Bolton.

The theme of this year’s exhibition was actually inspired by American writer Susan Sontag‘s 1964 essay called “Notes on Camp” which predicted a cultural scene, surprisingly fitting with today’s society. It is also important to note that Black and queer people are critical pioneers of that style and that without those communities, camp style as we know it today, would most likely not exist.

Although this year’s event is one of the most memorable catwalk of camp fashion in today’s history, a lot of designers have also been actively turning to camp fashion for inspiration in the last few years. Balenciaga is a fashion house not shy from all things camp for example, with their platform crocs, fanny packs and Ikea-inspired tote bags, but we’ve also got Gucci’s 2018 runway look as another representation of camp fashion, where models strutted down the catwalk holding their own severed heads.

The Met’s co-chairs Harry Styles and Michele also recently collaborated on a campy campaign that featured chickens and other animals for a menswear collection, showing a big range and room for interpretation for the popular and eccentric style.

Overall, today’s most prevalent trends tend to be inspired by camp style. Think the rise of the ugly footwear, the neon colours taking over our beloved pastel colours and new fabrics such as sheer and plastic.

Today’s most prevalent trends—from the rise of ugly footwear to the downright freaky ensembles that designers have sent down the catwalk over the past several years—reek of camp.

“Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is ‘too much,’” Sontag writes.

Here are some exerts from Susan Sontag’s essay which we thought would help you understand the meaning of it all:

The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.

When something is just bad (rather than Camp), it’s often because it is too mediocre in its ambition. The artist hasn’t attempted to do anything really outlandish. (“It’s too much,” “It’s too fantastic,” “It’s not to be believed,” are standard phrases of Camp enthusiasm.)

The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful… Of course, one can’t always say that. Only under certain conditions.

Inspired by this year’s theme? Here are some items you could add to your wardrobe to add camp style to your wardrobe

Featured images via Quaritzy [Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo © Johnny Dufort, 2018]

PS: If you buy something through our links, TWC may earn an affiliate commission.