How Do You Dress a Religious Celebrity For This Year's Met Gala?
Growing up the daughter of three rabbis (yes, three: father, mother, and step-father), was, well, a unique experience. I didn’t consider joining the clergy myself, nor did I tattoo every part of my body or become an atheist as an act of rebellion against my parents' chosen profession.
In a boring, non-twist of events, I never became the preacher or the anti-preacher’s kid, like many of my peers did. I loved going to synagogue when I was younger because the music was beautiful and it meant I got to hang out with my sister. When I got older, I learned that Rosh Hashanah not only meant a new year but new clothes (who would dare turn up at the High Holy Days in an old frock?).
To this day, hanging in the closet of my childhood home are my and my sister's shul coats; not a formal, religious garment, like a kippa, but a piece of clothing my father would purchase for us every few years to wear over our Shabbat dresses—a chic step up from the down puffers we wore to school.
VIDEO: See All The Looks From The Met Gala
To me, religion and fashion have always been intertwined. It’s what my parents do for a living and what I do for a lifestyle. Some of my fondest memories of synagogue involve fashion: When I was younger, we would joke about how all the older women’s large breasts would pull at their blouse buttons (great kid, yes), and in more recent years, we would comment on that stylish woman who uses Yom Kippur as a day to dress in head-to-toe Chanel.
When I found out the that the theme of this year’s Costume Institute Gala at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art—the most celebrity-studded costume party of the year—was to be “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination," my first thought was, “Versace. Versace. Versace.” And my second thought was, “Yikes. This could be rough.” The sensitivity around religion, especially in the current political climate, cannot be overlooked. Why choose a theme that, without a doubt, will cause conflict?
“I could write an entire thesis on this topic,” my father, who reads the New York Times style section as closely as he does The Forward, recently told me.
Needless to say, both my father and I are anxiously waiting to see the way celebrities, designers, and stylists magically (or mistakenly) embrace this year’s theme.
“I personally researched a lot,” stylist Maeve Reilly told me over the phone as she sat in L.A. traffic en route to a fitting. Reilly is responsible for outfitting celebrities like Halsey, Tinashe, and Sistine Stallone and, for the second year in a row, will be dressing Hailey Baldwin.
Baldwin was raised Christian, observantly so, and is an active member of the Hillsong Church (a.k.a. the place that Justin and Selena always go to pray). She occasionally posts inspirational and religiously toned photos and captions to Instagram, praising God and expressing the importance that her faith holds in her everyday life.
“Hailey is very religious,” Reilly says, “but we didn’t feel pressure to, like, not insult anybody. The idea that she and I ran with was her idea. I just sort of helped her cultivate it. It’s definitely the least insulting thing you could ever do for this theme.”
Reilly has previously dressed Baldwin in full mesh looks, naked dresses, and barely there crop tops. But this Met Gala: little risk will be taken.
“I think the best advice is to [rather] be safe than sorry,” Reilly says. “Thankfully, I haven’t had any Met Galas in the past go wrong for us.”
“It’s always tricky,” Reilly says of dressing clients for the theme party. “When you had 'Asia: Through the Looking Glass' [a previous Met Gala theme], you had to be really careful [about] cultural appropriation. There’s always a fine line. It’s our jobs to make sure that everything is respected and that it comes across in the right way.”
For Reilly, ensuring that her clients’ looks are creative and respectful requires extensive research, especially for this year’s theme.
“My first step is always to do research,” she says of her process. “I pull images, and something will hit me. I’ll take that to a client and show them a mood board with references and ideas. I usually just end up in an Internet hole. Obviously, Pinterest and Tumblr have cool stuff, but a lot of the time I’ll just be on Google and see where it goes.”
Without giving away Baldwin’s look for the event, she shared with me some of the inspiration behind the look we’ll be seeing next week: “The Galliano priest that went down the runway back in the ‘90s was really incredible, there’s a detail that’s very Versace … Hailey is super inspired by the supermodels of the ‘90s, so we went back and we came up with an idea that really represents iconic Versace shapes in the ‘90s.”
As a stylist, Reilly acknowledges she has a certain responsibility to her clients to send them down the red carpet in something both sartorially magnificent as well as appropriate.
“All of my clients can have their own ideas, but if something is not okay, it’s my responsibility and their team’s to voice that and maybe guide them in a different direction,” she tells me. “If someone is questioning a piece of jewelry or a headpiece, I say less is more when it comes to not insulting anybody.”
And we can be sure to see tons of headpieces and religion-inspired jewelry on Monday at the Met Gala. “That’s what’s cool about this event,” Reilly continues, “how people interpret things. There’s always the one that’s like, 'Oh my god.'"
Not everybody will play it safe. And we wouldn’t want it any other way. That would be, well, boring. We expect some of our favorite, long-standing risk-takers to push boundaries and will be right there to comment on it when they do.
“I’m always personally excited to see Sarah Jessica Parker and Rihanna,” Reilly confesses (she is not responsible for styling either). “Both are queens of the night. I’m hearing rumors that the Vatican is involved now. I’ve heard that there’s someone involved and asking people not to show a lot of skin. We reached out to Vogue to find if that was true…”