Lena Waithe honors black drag queens with Met Gala outfit

The back of Waithe’s jacket credited black drag queens with inventing “camp,” the theme of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual event.
Image: Kerby Jean-Raymond, Lena Waithe
Designer Kerby Jean-Raymond and Lena Waithe attend The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the "Camp: Notes on Fashion" exhibition on May 6, 2019, in New York.Charles Sykes / Invision/AP
By Gwen Aviles

At Monday night’s Met Gala, celebrity guests displayed their widespread interpretations of the event’s elusive "camp" theme. But actress and producer Lena Waithe stood out among a sea of glitter and feathers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual fundraiser with her statement-making attire.

From the front, Waithe’s pin-striped pantsuit looked deceptively simple. Yet a closer look revealed the buttons were actually the faces of black "camp" pioneers, and the stripes were lyrics from Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and other anthems from iconic black divas.

Written on the back of her jacket in bold font were the words, “Black Drag Queens Inventend [sic] Camp.”

Waithe told E! News on the red carpet that she wanted to emphasize the black drag queens who advanced the camp movement.

"Pepper LaBeija, Benny Ninja, RuPaul, all these pioneers . . . I really wanted to pay tribute to them and all that they did for the culture," she explained. "They started this whole 'camp' thing by being over the top."

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When asked by E! what camp means to her, Waithe said "it means to take everything you’re trying to do to the next level."

“It’s about being extra. It’s about doing the most. And you know, black folks do the most all the time," she said.

The Emmy Award-winner’s suit was designed by Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss, who walked the red carpet with her.

While some pointed out the misspelling on Waithe’s jacket, there was an outpouring of support on social media for Waithe's outfit choice.

“Holy f--k the detailing on lena waithe’s dress is lyrics from iconic songs that drag queens kill to. She is absolutely legendary,” one Twitter user wrote, garnering more than 25,000 likes.

“Love that Lena Waithe is representing black drag queens and members of the black community like Pepper LaBeija, RuPaul, Sylvester and Willi Ninja,” wrote Lorenzo Marquez and Tom Fitzgerald, authors of the book “Everyone Wants to Be Me or Do Me,” on their shared account.

Evan Ross Katz, a freelance writer, observed that Waithe’s outfit is especially poignant given that “no black drag queens sans RuPaul appear to be invited to the camp-themed affair.”

The curators and co-chairs of the annual fundraiser for the Met's Costume Institute decided to name the event “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” as a nod to writer and philosopher Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on Camp.”

Andrew Bolton, the head curator of the Met's Costume Institute, acknowledged the concept of "camp" can be a bit confusing to some people.

“It’s easier to see and recognize camp than to describe it,” Bolton told NBC News just ahead of Monday's event.

For those who want to see camp for themselves, the "Camp: Notes on Fashion" exhibit opens to the public on Thursday and features more than 200 pieces of "campy" costumes and artifacts spanning hundreds of years.

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