A (Complete) History of the Met Gala | Savoir Flair
A (Complete) History of the Met Gala
by Savoir Flair 8-minute read April 30, 2024

From 1948 to present day.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City is home to one of the most prestigious and glamorous events in the fashion world: The Met Gala. Each year, celebrities, designers, and industry insiders gather at the Met in New York City to celebrate the opening of the Costume Institute’s latest exhibit. From the stunning red-carpet looks to the elaborate themes, the Met Gala has become a cultural phenomenon that transcends the world of fashion.

Today, the impact of the Met Gala goes beyond its status as a glamorous event; it serves as a platform for emerging designers and supports art within the Costume Institute by raising millions of dollars every year for exhibitions and acquisitions. However, the event had humble beginnings, having launched as a small dinner party attended by a handful of industry insiders. 

Tracing the trajectory of the Met Gala through time unveils fashion’s special bond with art and culture. As we explore the Met Gala’s storied past, one can’t help but discuss the role of notable attendees, headline-making themes and outfits, and of course the controversial moments. As we count the days to this year's edition, we take a closer look at the history of the Met Gala, from its early days to its current status as one of the most spectacular events of the year.

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Origins of the Met Gala

The first-ever Met Gala took place in 1948 as a fundraiser for the newly established Costume Institute. It was created by American publicist Eleanor Lambert, who aimed to encourage donations from high-society members while celebrating their love for fashion. The early galas were relatively low-key dinner events, attended mostly by socialites and fashion industry insiders. 

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Evolution of the Met Gala

In 1973, Diana Vreeland joined forces with The Metropolitan Museum to revamp and elevate this annual gala into an extravagant affair that would attract international attention. With her influence on board, themes were introduced starting from 1974, which set precedence for the future of the annual event.

It was in the 1990s that the event transformed into the spectacle that it is today. The themes became more elaborate, the guest list more star-studded, and the red carpet more of a fashion show than ever before. The Met Gala has since evolved into a cultural phenomenon, with its themes and celebrity invitees setting trends and making headlines around the world. The evolution of the Met Gala has been nothing short of extraordinary, and it continues to enthrall and inspire fashion lovers everywhere.

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Impact of the Met Gala

Beyond its status as a star-studded fundraising event, the Met Gala has significantly impacted fashion and pop culture. Every year, designers are challenged to create unique pieces that adhere to the given theme, enabling them to stretch their creative limits, giving us some of the most extraordinary designs on the red carpet. 

Furthermore, this annual event serves as a platform for emerging designers who gain exposure by dressing celebrities attending the gala. The Met Gala also plays a critical role in supporting and preserving art within the Costume Institute by raising millions of dollars every year for its exhibitions and acquisitions.

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Notable Attendees

Every year, the Met Gala draws an impressive array of celebrities from fashion, film, music, and beyond. With its ever-changing themes and meticulously crafted guest list, it’s no wonder, then, that international celebrities flock to this prestigious gathering every year. From Hollywood A-listers and to actual royalty, the Met Gala red carpet has been graced by famous faces from across the globe, including Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Princess Diana, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Queen Rania of Jordan, among others.

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The Most Memorable Met Gala Themes

From the fashion exhibition hosted inside the Metropolitan Museum to the celebrity costumes and beauty looks at the Met Gala, all revolve around one central theme. While the Met Gala captivates the world with a new theme every year, there have been a few themes over the years that brought out the very best of the industry’s creative minds.

From the futuristic “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” theme in 2016 to the unforgettable “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” theme in 2018, each year, the Met Gala surpasses the previous one in creativity and originality. The impressive “Camp: Notes on Fashion” theme, inspired by Susan Sontag‘s essay, was a feast for the eyes with its over-the-top looks and exaggerated extravagance. And who could forget the punk-inspired “Punk: Chaos to Couture,” which saw A-listers embrace their inner rebel with studded leather jackets and edgy hairstyles? The 2011 theme, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” honoring the life and work of the late designer, showcased his avant-garde creations on the famous Met Gala guests. 

These themes have not only provided endless inspiration for fashion enthusiasts but have also become cultural moments that will forever be etched in the history of fashion.

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The Most Iconic Met Gala Outfits

The Met Gala has become synonymous with bold fashion choices and innovative designs. Over the years, celebrities have used the event’s red carpet as a platform to showcase some of the most spectacular and creative outfits in fashion history.

One of the most daring and scandalous Met Gala outfits ever was worn by Cher in 1974, when she made a head-turning entrance in a sheer, beaded Bob Mackie dress that became known as the “naked dress”.

One of the most iconic outfits in the history of Met Gala was worn by none other than Rihanna at the 2015 “China: Through the Looking Glass” theme, where she sent the internet in a frenzy as she walked the red carpet in a yellow Guo Pei gown with an elaborately embroidered train that spanned several feet. The dress sparked an endless meme fest that has gone down in the history of the Met Gala.

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The Most Iconic Met Gala Outfits

Another legendary Met Gala moment was in 2019 when Lady Gaga made not one, not two, but four outfit changes on the red carpet, each more dramatic and theatrical than the earlier one. And who can forget Sarah Jessica Parker‘s unforgettable “Punk: Chaos to Couture” look in 2013, which included a mohawk headpiece and a stunning Giles Deacon gown?

And, of course, Beyoncé‘s sheer, jewel-encrusted Givenchy dress at the same event, which left little to the imagination, had everyone talking for weeks. Years, later Kendall Jenner followed suite, showing up to the 2021 Met Gala in a see-through crystal-embellished Givenchy gown.

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The Most Iconic Met Gala Outfits

In 2019, Kim Kardashian attended the Met Gala dressed in a mind-boggling Thierry Mugler gown that created the illusion of being “dripping wet”. The magnificent gown was nothing short of art in itself and took a total of eight months to make.

The same year, Katy Perry lit up the red carpet as she arrived dressed as a chandelier in a bespoke Moschino creation.

Blake Lively, who has always stunned on the Met Gala red carpet, delivered a jaw-dropping moment when she came to the 2022 Met Gala dressed in a color-changing Versace gown. Lively arrived at the event in a fabulous rose-gold gown adorned with a massive bow which, when unfurled, revealed another icy blue layer, completely transforming her outfit.

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The Most Controversial Met Gala Moments

The Met Gala has never been short of controversies, from outfits and themes that ruffled feathers to dramatic celebrity moments; over the years, the Met Gala has witnessed it all.

In 2015, the “China: Through The Looking Glass” theme sparked a debate about cultural appropriation and insensitivity, with some celebrities being criticized for perpetuating stereotypes or appropriating Chinese culture. The 2018 Met Gala theme, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” was met with similar backlash as it was felt by some that it trivialized sacred symbols.

In addition to controversial themes, some attendees have also made headlines for their provocative or rule-breaking outfits. For example, Madonna‘s sheer Givenchy ensemble at the 2016 “Manus x Machina” Met Gala event stirred up a conversation about ageism and body shaming. In 2017, Kendall Jenner was at the receiving end of similar backlash for wearing a risqué La Perla number that was deemed as “vulgar” by many.

For her 2022 Met Gala appearance, Kim Kardashian lost 16 pounds in three short weeks to squeeze into Marilyn Monroe‘s iconic Jean Louis dress from 1962. While Kardashian’s stunt landed her on the list of most iconic outfits in the history of Met Gala, it also stirred a lot of backlash as she reportedly left the historic dress irreversibly damaged.

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