Heavenly Bodies: the Catholic Influence on Pop Culture


Heavenly Bodies: the Catholic Influence on Pop Culture

When I first heard of this year’s Met Gala theme, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” I didn’t know what to make of it. May 7th marked the 70th anniversary of fashion’s biggest event and the Costume Institute set out to explore the relationship between art, religion, and fashion. I had the chance to visit the Met in New York to experience this exhibit for myself!

When I walked into the crux of the gallery, I was met with a big open space enclosed by the Sistine Chapel’s windows and gates. Serene music filled the room. Mannequins adorned with dresses inspired by the murals of the Byzantine church and paintings and sculptures from the medieval collection decorated the whole gallery. My favorite piece was the John Galliano for House of Dior, autumn/winter 2000–2001 haute couture. The magnificent gowns, the soft lighting, and the gentle music all tied together to make it an otherworldly experience, to say the least.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. John Galliano for House of Dior. Evening ensemble, autumn/winter 2000–2001 haute couture.

However, this is not the first time Catholic imagery has influenced fashion and pop culture. From Madonna to Beyoncé, celebrities and pop icons have been incorporating religious influences into their wardrobes and their Instagram photos. Beyoncé is well known for posting looks mimicking the Virgin Mary on various occasions. Her iconic pregnancy photoshoot featured her newborn twins and flowers, a long veil and flowy fabric embellishing her figure. Angry Twitter users criticized her for glamorizing motherhood while her fans (myself included) interpreted it more as a political statement. Her pregnancy announcement draws from the Black Madonna imagery challenging the stereotype of black motherhood.

Courtesy of Beyoncé/Instagram 

Madonna has long been an iconic figure in the music industry, known for incorporating Catholic symbolism into her style. No one can forget the gigantic crucifix worn around the neck paired with a white fluffy wedding dress when she performed her debut song, “Like a Virgin” for the first time at the VMAs in 1984. She has also received a fair amount of controversy with her music videos –especially her 1989 hit “Like a Prayer”–featuring burning crosses. This led her to receive a condemnation from the Vatican.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

Despite the great amount of controversy surrounding the theme, why has Catholicism continued to have such a strong influence on fashion? In a society that values political correctness, the decision made by the Costume Institute may seem controversial. If the theme had been on Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, it would most likely be deemed culturally inappropriate. However, in the head curator Andrew Bolton’s words, “although [the relationship between fashion and religion] has been complex and sometimes contested, it has produced some of the most inventive and innovative creations in the history of fashion.”

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