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    Updated on May 13, 2019. Posted on May 6, 2019

    Camp Belonged To Black And Gay Communities Before It Was Met Gala Popular

    Its origins center around identity and impact, almost forgetting the clothes.

    Every year, the Met has a black-tie event held the first Monday in May to raise money for their Costume Institute, otherwise known as the Met Gala.

    Theo Wargo / Getty Images

    I'm sure many of you have heard of the documentary, The First Monday in May, which takes us all behind the scenes of how the biggest night in fashion comes to be, from conceptualization to the afterparties.

    The night serves as the largest fundraiser for the Met's fashion department, and each year, celebrities and fashion's biggest leaders join together for a night of celebration, awareness, and of course, money.

    Although we colloquially call it the Met Gala, it's officially the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit (but you can see why people condense it to make it easier to say!) Each year, there's a theme — this year, the exhibition was "Camp: Notes on Fashion," taken from Susan Sontag's essay "Notes on Camp."

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    This year, the hosts were Anna Wintour (of course), Alessandro Michele, creative director of Gucci, Harry Styles, entertainer, Lady Gaga, who is...triple-threat amazing, and Serena Williams, tennis world champion and overall badass.

    So, what is camp? In her essay, Sontag defines camp as “its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration,” she writes. “The hallmark of camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of 3 million feathers.”

    But you, like so many others, may be wondering, "What exactly is camp? I still don't get it. How do people dress...camp?"

    TV Peru

    Well, "camp" isn't just the place we go on summer break. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, camp can also mean: "A style or mode of personal or creative expression that is absurdly exaggerated and often fuses elements of high and popular culture." By that definition, we can kind of gauge more of how camp could apply to clothing and expression.

    In simple terms, think of those outfits in pop culture that are extravagant and over the top, almost theatrical. While a lot of people are confused about how celebrities can nail the "camp" look, I personally think it's easier than previous themes. For me, camp is simply opening your mind up to limitless possibilities and not putting any stipulations on your outfit. Risky? Totally. But interesting? Hell yeah.

    So...who has done camp before?

    Theo Wargo / Getty Images

    If you think about previous Met Galas, you've definitely seen camp. Remember last year when Rihanna dressed up as the pope? Or when Sarah Jessica Parker had that weird nativity scene on her head? Or really anything Gaga has worn over the past, like, decade? Yep, that's camp.

    What about all the weird, quirky looks we see down the Moschino runway, like the McDonald's logo plastered on clothes and small, french-fry purses? Yep, that's camp, as well. Oh, and Cher and David Bowie with their eclectic and sensational style? Yep. And of course, Studio 54, Black funk, the list goes on and on.

    But honestly, can I be so bold to say camp started in brown and gay communities long before it became trendy?

    VH1

    According to the New York Post, camp is "ironic yet sincere; glamorous yet tacky; so bad it’s good; too much and just right."

    While we may point to celebrities who encapsulate that, a lot of camp style began in urban communities and amongst people of color and queer individuals. Large gold hoops, excessive jewelry, loud and bright outfits that many people would have called "tacky," or "ghetto" on brown skin tones soon became the sought-after look for celebrities and A-list actors wanting to appear "urban," and "retro."

    Critics, such as Moe Meyer in her book, The Politics and Poetics of Camp, have noted that Sontag doesn't reference queerness and the important role of queer identity to the term, despite Merriam-Webster noting that the the word appeared in "homosexual slang" as part of the Polari language.

    VH1

    Despite the fact that the term "camp" in this regard could have originated in queer communities, Sontag doesn't fully acknowledge the uniqueness of the discovery of camp. Towards the end of her essay, she mentions that "one feels that if homosexuals hadn’t more or less invented Camp, someone else would," which grossly overshadows why the term was created to promote inclusion for an excluded community.

    If you have no idea what I'm talking about, it's like the terms "kween," "slay," "yaasss," "hunty," and countless others which were originally started and promoted in Black gay and trans communities then taken and mass-marketed to white consumers and audiences. Now, we see it everywhere without proper recognition.

    Examine drag; Inevitably, in its purest form, drag is an over-the-top exaggeration of life, rooted in identity. THAT is camp.

    Remember when Lil' Kim would wear grandiose outfits that left EVERYONE speechless, whether it was her flaunting sex appeal in see-through outfits (we'll never forget her purple jumpsuit that covered only one boob) or remixing high-end designers like Versace and Gucci for head-to-toe looks? CAMP AF.

    Kevin Winter / Getty Images

    Status, wealth, individual expression, and the clothes meant more to certain communities than just designer names and labels. Kim and countless others represented an idea of 'making it' while still staying true to oneself — the aesthetic of swagg without apology or questioning.

    And her music videos, like "Crush On You," tapped into bold-colored wigs with the outfits to match. It was different, it was provocative, but it encapsulated a piece of black experience. The point is, THIS is camp — making a statement without trying to.

    Atlantic Records

    It wasn't just Lil' Kim, either: The '90s and early '00s saw a plethora of Black camp in music videos. Cam'ron, Dapper Dan (before his work with Gucci), Missy Elliott, and Busta Rhymes merely scratch the surface of what camp could and would be. Ah, and of course women like Nicki Minaj and Cardi B are holding it up nowadays.

    Ethan Miller / Getty Images

    Iconic movies like B*A*P*S (Black American Princesses) and Boomerang presented the black narrative in ways that felt unique to Hollywood, but normal to the communities it served and related to.

    New Line Cinema

    Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter (yes, THAT Ruth E. Carter) designed the outfits for B*A*P*S, which centers around two businesswomen who want to open a hair salon and soul food shop in Hollywood.

    On the costuming, Carter told Teen Vogue, “B*A*P*S created a ‘campy’ look by using unconventional fabrics with recognizable yet exaggerated shapes and fabrics that were fashioned to make a bold statement. With this, the characters become the ‘camp’ version of themselves in high society. There is a close relationship between ‘camp’ and ‘farce.’ The idea or the story is the farce. The farce influences the design. But it’s the idea of ‘failed seriousness’ that brings to life a clear story (i.e. how to look wealthy in Beverly Hills) and a bold statement, that is truly camp.”

    While there's so much more we can discuss about camp, it's important to note that camp, for many celebrities, is expressional and fun. But for many people of color, it served and continues to serve as a way to present oneself to the world — it's not just fun, it's a means of preservation.

    Master Sound Studios

    Camp is a feeling, a reflection of blackness and gay culture, and street culture, and urban culture. It's muddled through with art and culture, as well as a long legacy of individualism and expression. Dare I say, camp is also mixed with oppression and resistance. I'm interested in seeing how people define that for the masses, and who will be a part of the conversation.

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