When I say “camp fashion,” you might think of an outfit appropriate to go camping in. Maybe you go even further and think about dressing up as camping equipment. Either way, it’s not correct.
Camp Fashion is appealing because it’s not traditionally “good-looking” and because it’s ironic and opposes the mainstream and general sense of “fashion.” Camp can be fun and cheesy and fail at reaching seriousness.
What most people fail to realize is that black drag queens invented camp. When people think of camp now, they may think of Lady GaGa or Katy Perry—women who have reached “campy levels,” but we owe it to the people who started this movement to remember them when we applaud modern “icons.” Even if you aren’t well-versed in LGBT+ or POC culture, camp idols like Prince should still come to mind.
The most recent Met Gala is a perfect example of whitewashing and erasure. There were no tributes to camp kings and queens like as Grace Jones, a Jamaican-American model, songwriter, singer, actress, whose fashion was ahead of its time, or Prince, a singer whose legacy speaks for itself.
Media itself helped with the whitewashing of the event—I have not seen a single article or post about Dapper Dan, a designer, who worked with Gucci before releasing his own clothing line, and one of the original camp fashion icons. He even attended the Gala himself!
The blatant whitewashing of history isn’t something new, but it is something we can try to put an end to. Lena Waithe walked the pink carpet at the Gala and single-handedly tried to give the black LGBT+ community the credit they deserve for creating camp.
Written across her jacket were lyrics from a song written by drag queens, and across the back was the message “Black Drag Queens Inventend Camp,” which was said to be intentionally misspelled as a reference to African American Vernacular English (AAVE) that came from black culture. She even tweeted that first it was “Periodt” and now it’s “Inventend.” Waithe knew exactly what she was doing—giving the finger to whitewashing and supporting her community.
Camp, as a word, originated as a queer-slang term in a secret language, called Polari, that LGBT+ people, showmen, sailors and others, which the mainstream public looked down on, have been using since the 1900s. It’s been an ever-evolving word, but it always had its origin in black and gay culture. Black drag queens started camp as a rejection of the dominant, white standards of femininity; something they could not and should not have to fit into.
Since then, the style and culture of camp has encompassed the entire LGBT+ and black communities, but is no longer staying within the boundaries of black drag queens and black LGBT+ people. Though this fashion isn’t limited to a specific group of people, we should be paying respect to the people who created it and remember who they are, especially at a big, public event like the Met Gala.
Black, queer drag queens started camp and we owe it to them to not erase their history.