Lady Gaga wears her 'meat dress' at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards.
At the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, American singer Lady Gaga wore an infamous dress made of raw beef, which was commonly referred to by the media as the meat dress.
It has been a decade since the singer wore a fillet as a fascinator and people are still obsessed.
Created by designer Franc Fernandez and featuring a cowl neckline, a slashed-to-thigh hem and matching beef clutch bag, the “meat dress”, as it quickly became known, was an overnight sensation. Dominating the event’s headlines, it knocked every other attendee’s outfit sideways, even eclipsing Gaga’s other two looks: an Alexander McQueen dress with plume feather headdress, and a black leather gown by Giorgio Armani.
Global press dedicated column inches to speculating over what the dress stood for, whether it smelt dodgy, and was it in fact real meat?
The answer was yes, it comprised 50 pounds of rib and steak purchased from Fernandez’s butcher.
Replicas were made and sold for up to $100,000 (£80,000), while the original dress was preserved and put on exhibition. Hailed as the biggest fashion moment of the year, Gaga’s meat dress was nothing short of a sartorial phenomenon, and a decade later, it’s impact on red carpet dressing is still being felt.
The red carpet has long been an opportunity to throw the fashion gauntlet down. Introduced to Hollywood in the 1920s, the crimson strip is not simply a carpet but a showcase for glorious gowns, extravagant jewels and perfectly coiffed up-dos. Attracting the world’s gaze, it has become as much of a spectacle as the awards ceremonies themselves and a chance for career-boosting – and breaking – headlines to be made.
In recent years, the red carpet has been accused of becoming boring, as sartorial eyebrow raisers are seemingly switched for a polite precession of oh-so-pretty fairytale frocks. “Has the art of ridiculous dressing died?” fashion editors have asked, as we’ve scrolled through paparazzi shot after paparazzi shot of off-the-shoulder numbers in universally flattering shades of blush with not even a whiff of charcuterie in sight.
But has the red carpet really lost its bite? Or is it more that we’ve lost the ability to feel it?
Though Gaga’s steaky slip might not have been the first headline-grabbing outfit to hit the red carpet, it was undoubtedly a watershed moment. Disrupting the red carpet like never before, it has upped our threshold for outrageous dressing, and subsequent attempts to outdo it have felt somewhat tame by comparison. Rihanna’s 2018 Papal Met gala outfit, Beyonce’s 2015 ‘naked’ dress, Angelina Jolie’s leg-revealing 2012 Oscars frock – sorry all, Gaga’s meat feast raised the bar for shock-factor irrevocably, and an exposed bum cheek or blinged-up Mitre simply doesn’t match it.
The apex of wild it surely was, however the meat dress has had another lasting effect on red carpet style; it paved the way for protest dressing.
When Gaga stepped onto the VMA’s stage cloaked in flank, it wasn’t purely for scandalous effect. It was a political move. A public advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, the dress was the precursor to “The Prime Rib of America” speech she gave ten days later in Maine, lobbying against the United States military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, an act that prohibited homosexual and bisexual service people from disclosing their sexual orientation. "If we don't stand up for what we believe in, if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones," the pop star told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres after the awards ceremony, by way of explanation.
Granted it wasn’t the most straightforward of protest outfits; much of the media coverage centred around the outcry from animal rights and vegan organisations, while controversy swirled over whether the concept had been copied from an artist – both of which detracted from Gaga’s intended message. However it did reposition the role of the red carpet as a place not just for sartorial peacocking but as a platform for activism. (Arguably it worked, President Barack Obama signed a repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy into law two months later.)
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