Everything you need to know about the Met Gala's 2019 theme: camp

Explaining the costume exhibit's theme ahead of the Met's biggest night.

On the first Monday in May, fashion designers and stars will convene for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's biggest night: the Met Gala.

The annual fundraiser for the museum's Costume Institute celebrates the opening of its annual exhibit, with this year's called "Camp: Notes on Fashion," and no, we're not talking about tents or the outdoors.

What is Camp?

We're talking about camp style, an exaggerated art form that's often outrageous but hard to define.

"It's extravagant and fun. It can take itself seriously, but it's also tongue-in-cheek," said Ferren Gipson, a London-based art historian and the host of the podcast, "Art Matters."

"Camp can be slightly subjective, which is another reason why it can be slippery to define," she explained.

If you were to Google what camp style was, myriad definitions would probably pop up along with gaudy fashions worn by icons of today such as Lady Gaga and RuPaul.

It's a reflection of what we see today on red carpets, in magazines and music videos. Name any pop star today and their latest music video may allude to camp. Whether it be Ariana Grande putting her own spin on scenes from films in her "thank u, next" music video or Lady Gaga performing jazz with Tony Bennett, one could argue that these are examples of the camp aesthetic.

In 2014, fashion designer Jeremy Scott of the House of Moschino debuted a McDonald's-inspired fashion collection in Italy. The following year, Scott, who is known for his fun play on certain themes in his fashion designs, debuted another collection inspired by Barbie, complete with models wearing blond wigs, fuschia leather jackets and miniskirts. His playful designs on past objects and brands in pop culture are another example of camp.

"If you revise a text that has meaning at a given time, but you're moving that time to the current present to appeal to a new audience, that's considered camp," said Dr. Bruce Drushel, a media professor of Miami University in Ohio.

With celebrities and designers pushing the envelope with how they express themselves or convey meaning in their work, camp has become embedded in pop culture today more than ever before.

Origins of camp

But the style and art form have been around since the 17th century, and have taken on many forms since.

In her latest podcast, Gipson dove into the camp theme and pointed out that the style was born in France and what was happening in the Palace of Versailles.

"If you look at the décor, the rules of etiquette and the fashions, it was all very luxurious and elaborate," she said. "You see men and women in big wigs, makeup and ornate dress, and that's all within the camp spectrum."

The evolution of camp

Fast-forward to the 20th century and the term evolves, representing popular culture of each decade through film, television shows and music. "Golden Age Hollywood is a more modern interpretation of that same excess and grandeur," she said.

In the 1960s, television became campy with superhero shows like 1966's "Batman," which interpreted the classic comic in an outrageous way.

"It was done in bright, saturated colors to mimic the look of a comic book," said Drushel, the professor. "The villains on the show come off as being over the top, and it comes off as funny but still tries to be serious."

Drushel, who teaches media economics and audience studies, describes camp as "when you move something from its original context into another one," and draws on TV and film adaptations of classic comics from the past, such as "Riverdale" or the Marvel movies.

What to expect at the Met Gala

With so many definitions out there about what camp is, just exactly what will this exhibit be about?

In October, the Met Museum revealed that the exhibit's inspiration comes from an essay, "Notes on 'Camp,'" by Susan Sontag, who tried to bring camp into popular culture in 1964.

On its website, The Met said that the exhibit will illustrate what camp is and how it has become an important influence on mainstream culture. About 175 objects, including womenswear and menswear from designers like Balenciaga, Jean Paul Gaultier and Jeremy Scott will be on display.

With camp as the theme of this year's exhibit, many are buzzing about the gala and how celebrities will pull this style off on the red carpet.

Last year, stars showed up in their "Sunday best" for The Met's exhibit "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination," with celebs' putting their own spin on it.

To Gipson, it's a chance for celebs to go all out this year with the theme.

"This is the perfect opportunity for the men to go all out. I want to see someone inspired by the 17th century French court, I want elaborate clothing bordering on the absurd," she said.

This year's gala co-chairs include Harry Styles, Gucci's creative director Alessandro Michele, Serena Williams, Anna Wintour and Lady Gaga.

Every red carpet or award show moment that Gaga has been a part of in the past is emblematic of camp. From her iconic meat dress designed by Franc Fernandez in 2010 that the internet still talks about to this day, or her shining like a glamorous old Hollywood star at the Venice Film Festival, Gaga's infinite fashion choices are statements and embody what camp is.

"This is her wheelhouse, and she's co-chair so I'll definitely be looking at how she will interpret the theme," Gipson said.

The Met's costume exhibit on camp will be on display to the public from May 9 to Sept. 8.