Camp, But Make It College


It’s not outdoorsy couture, but it’s difficult to define what it is.

Camp is this year’s Met Gala theme, based on Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes on ‘Camp.’” Andrew Bolton, head curator of the Costume Institute, chose camp because it “has become increasingly more mainstream in its pluralities — political camp, queer camp, pop camp, the conflation of high and low, the idea that there is no such thing as originality.”

In her essay, Sontag defines camp as “the love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.” She has found camp in Tiffany lamps, Aubrey Beardsley drawings, the ballet “Swan Lake” and Cuban pop singer La Lupe, among other things.

We’re still scratching our heads figuring out what exactly ties these things together.

Camp fashion is easier described than done. With abundant resources, Met Gala attendees have no excuse to ignore the theme. Yet some celebrities disregard the theme of fashion’s most exclusive costume party.

We created looks that we’d wear on the red carpet on a college student’s budget.

In creating these looks, we got a better grasp on camp. But even Sontag will admit that the camp canon can change and that it’s always evolving. For a better understanding, keep up with the Met Gala red carpet on May and visit the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 9 to Sept. 8.

This look combines two quintessential aspects of the camp canon: unconventional silhouettes and excess. This dress that I thrifted is certainly vintage, yet I can’t place it. I’m reminded of Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, Civil War-era dresses, off-the-shoulder dresses from the 1970’s and Kitri’s Act III costume from the ballet “Don Quixote.” This dress seems to transcend time, which certainly qualifies it as camp. It’s paired with an obscene amount of pearl hair clips (courtesy of Amazon, CVS and Bed Bath & Beyond) and pearls on my face and body. In the camp canon, excess simply isn’t enough.
I wanted to take an outfit I would wear on the daily and make it camp. So I took one of my favorite trends, the “chains on chains” look, to the extreme. Camp, after all, is extreme. It likes to live outside the box. Outside of my box was accessorizing vinyl pants and a simple cropped tank, a quintessential I.AM.GIA “Insta-baddie” look with 14 yards of chain wrapped around my body, face and neck. Camp takes trends and amplifies them.
I combined the confrontational dresses of Viktor & Rolf’s Spring 2019 Couture Collection and the whimsical accessories of Rodarte’s Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear (RTW) Collection. I spelled out “NOT UR BABY” onto a dress I thrifted for less than $20. It’s a literal fashion statement. Recall that camp is style at the expense of content. This statement has no meaning without context; it’s up to the reader to come to their own conclusion. I layered black trousers to undermine the femininity of the gray chiffon muumuu. Lastly, I piled a fake bouquet of lavender in my hair to add to the meaningless statement of an outfit.
Why have bows on your tights? Camp would retort, why not? This is another reference to Rodarte’s Fall 2019 RTW Collection, which was saturated with frills and bows adorning heads, legs and everything in between. This Salvation Army dress is layered over a white button-up shirt, poking at the arbitrary line that separates masculinity and femininity. Lastly, avant-garde makeup is topped with a tiara in a nod to 2015 Yves Saint Laurent courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond, because why not?
I wanted to channel the spirit of Wednesday Addams with the spunk of Alexander McQueen, topped with my own tribute to camp’s eccentric flair. The dress-and-corset silhouette was inspired by a look featured in Alexander McQueen’s Resort 2019 Collection shown in London. Since a designer look isn’t exactly in the ordinary college student’s budget, I opted for pieces I bought at thrift and second-hand stores. I also accessorized with not just one or two clips, but a helmet of them, and made a statement on my face with stickers, because why not? Going beyond the ordinary is what camp is all about.
Gucci is sponsoring this year’s Met Gala, so it was fitting that at least one of the looks would be inspired by the eccentric fashion house. In their Fall 2019 RTW Collection, models cried synthetic tears, nodding to Our Lady of Sorrows. I recreated this look with a hot glue gun, pink paint and eyelash glue. This was paired with an oversized flower crown, veil and bouquet, all in pink to further emphasize the holy Molly Ringwald, Mother of God, vibe. One of my favorite quirks of the camp canon is its tendency to flirt with historical silhouettes. The skirt of the vintage dress worn in this look was falling apart when I bought it, so I cut off portions of it, giving the classic ’50s silhouette a quirky update.
Camp loves nodding toward pop culture. I followed suit by styling a Beetlejuice-inspired, black-and-white striped pantsuit with red accent pieces. I furthered the reference to this classic ’80s film by styling my bangs like those worn by Winona Ryder’s character Lydia. Then, to up the creep factor, I stuck googly eyes all over my face to complete the horror-chic aesthetic. Camp is weird, camp is unearthly, camp is cool.
Fashion isn’t confined to gender binaries, and neither is camp. In this look I wanted to play with the juxtaposition of masculinity and femininity by pairing an oversized blazer with a tulle skirt — each piece a staple of one side of the gender binary — and then accessorizing with androgynous makeup and hair. My features are bare aside from the black lines tracing patterns on my face. Camp is androgynous; it cannot be confined to a dichotomy, to “this” or “that,” just as this look is not clearly masculine or feminine. It is a bit of everything and everyone.