And Now, the Met Gala Outfits That Stirred the Most Controversy | Savoir Flair
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And Now, the Met Gala Outfits That Stirred the Most Controversy
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by Sanika Tipnis 5-minute read May 1, 2024

Let's revisit the most controversial looks worn at the Met Gala.

From the surreal to the risqué, the Met Gala has long been synonymous with avant-garde fashion and jaw-dropping ensembles. Often dubbed the “Oscars of Fashion,” the annual fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s Costume Institute provides celebrities and designers the perfect opportunity to showcase their most daring and innovative creations. Over the years, certain outfits have turned heads, left a lasting impression, and become part of the history books. Some others? They challenged fashion norms, polarized opinions, and sparked heavy debates that extended (far) beyond the red carpet.

Below, we dive into the archives to revisit the most controversial outfits in Met Gala history.

1

Cher

Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design, 1974

Cher‘s “naked dress” by Bob Mackie set the tone for future daring Met Gala looks. The sheer, body-hugging gown featured strategically placed sequins and a feathered hem, leaving little to the imagination. The outfit was both revolutionary and risqué, paving the way for other celebrities to make bold fashion choices.

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2

Princess Diana

Christian Dior: The Man and the Myth, 1996

Princess Diana‘s appearance at the 1996 Met Gala (her first and only time attending) was met with mixed reactions due to her choice of a lingerie-inspired dress by John Galliano for Dior. The sleek, minimalist design was considered too risqué and daring for a member of the royal family, further fueling the controversy surrounding the late princess’s rebellious fashion choices. Rumors later swirled that the late Princess herself was unsure about the sensual look as she was afraid she would embarrass her sons.

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3

Sarah Jessica Parker

China: Through the Looking Glass, 2015

SJP‘s scandalous headpiece by Philip Treacy, paired with her custom H&M gown, sparked a heated debate about cultural appropriation. The elaborate, fiery-red headdress was inspired by traditional Chinese headpieces but ignited conversations about the fine line between appreciation and appropriation, facing major backlash for pushing the derogatory “Dragon Lady” stereotype that vilifies Asian women.

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4

Kendall Jenner

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, 2017

Kendall Jenner‘s risqué La Perla dress was a bold choice that left very little to the imagination. The barely-there gown, adorned with 85,000 hand-painted crystals, was a celebration of the human form but also raised eyebrows for its sheer (no pun intended) audacity.

While the Met Gala red carpet is no stranger to audacious ensembles, Jenner’s skimpy dress – which was considered inappropriate and even vulgar by many – became a topic of heated discussion, where people debated the role of sex appeal in fashion. The supermodel, however, stood by her choice and said she felt confident in the dress.

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5

Scarlett Johansson

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, 2018

At the 2018 Met Gala, Scarlet Johansson came under fire for wearing what was considered by many a questionable choice of designer. Johansson’s problematic decision to wear a gown by Marchesa, the fashion label founded by Georgina Chapman (the ex-wife of film producer Harvey Weinstein) stirred major controversy. Johansson defended her choice, stating that she wore the gown because she wanted to support a talented female designer and that it was unfair to punish Chapman for the actions of her ex-husband.

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6

Amal Clooney

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, 2018

At the 2018 Met Gala, Amal Clooney dragged the drama to the red carpet, thanks to her last-minute outfit change. Clooney was supposed to wear a bespoke Tom Ford gown to the event. However, a last-minute change of mind saw Clooney walking the red carpet in a floral Richard Quinn bustier top-and-pants set. While Clooney looked absolutely stunning in the ensemble, once inside the museum, she changed into the original Tom Ford number, reportedly infuriating the designer and his team, who would have rather had Clooney stick to either one of the outfits through the night.

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7

Rihanna

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, 2018

Rihanna‘s “Pope” outfit by Maison Margiela was a jaw-dropping, gem-encrusted robe, complete with a matching mitre. The ensemble drew praise for its boldness and adherence to the theme, while others saw it as a mockery of religious symbols. The outfit’s religious connotations caused a stir, with some critics labeling it sacrilegious and disrespectful. Others saw it as a bold fashion statement and a nod to the event’s theme, sparking a debate about the appropriateness of using religious symbols in a fashion context.

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8

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez

In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, 2021

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Congresswoman from New York, sparked controversy with her attendance at the 2021 Met Gala, when she wore a white gown with the words “Tax the Rich” emblazoned in red across the back. Critics argued that her attendance at the high-profile event, which costs around USD30,000 per ticket, was hypocritical given her progressive political views and her calls for greater economic equity. However, supporters praised Ocasio-Cortez for using the opportunity to draw attention to issues of wealth inequality and to spark a conversation about the role of the ultra-rich in society.

Further, some political opponents and commentators raised questions about whether the dress, which was designed by Aurora James of Brother Vellies, constituted an impermissible gift under House ethics rules (which prohibit members from accepting gifts valued at more than USD50). James has stated that she lent the dress to Ocasio-Cortez for the event, and that no money exchanged hands.

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9

Kim Kardashian

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, 2022

If there was an award for the most controversial Met Gala outfit ever, Kim Kardashian would be the undisputed winner. Embroiled in layers of controversy, Kim Kardashian‘s 2022 Met Gala appearance in Marilyn Monroe‘s legendary dress (designed by Jean Louis and Bob Mackie) is easily one of the most criticized fashion choices by a celebrity. 

The shimmering, crystal-encrusted dress – worn by Monroe when she famously sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy in 1962 – was borrowed by Kardashian to be worn on the Met Gala 2022 red carpet for less than five minutes, after which she changed into a replica of the dress. To squeeze into Monroe’s dress, which did not originally fit her, Kardashian lost a whopping 16 pounds within three short weeks (a stunt which received tremendous backlash for promoting unhealthy and unsustainable weight loss). After the event, reports emerged that Kardashian had returned the dress with irreversible damage, sparking a furore across social media.

Kardashian’s choice to wear the historic gown at the Met Gala highlighted the event’s reputation for bold, statement-making fashion. It also illustrated how the reality TV star-turned-business mogul uses her influence to challenge the status quo and redefine the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in high-fashion circles.

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