The Metropolitan Museum of Art's steps aren't simply renowned for serving as the entrance to an impressive array of historical artwork and sculpture, or for functioning as the cafeteria upon which Blair Waldorf and her crew ate each day during the high school years of Gossip Girl. Thanks to the wide range of Met Gala themes, the steps of the museum have also seen thousands of the most beautiful, idiosyncratic, and imaginative ensembles worn by the fashion industry's finest as they pose for picture before entering the annual Costume Institute Gala.
Created in 1948 as a means of monetarily supporting the museum's costume wing, the Met Ball was reinvigorated in 1995 by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. The rest, as they say, is history, and an incredibly beautiful one at that. A more well-dressed crowd of philanthropists you could not find, many of whom take the gala's annual theme as an excuse to unleash their inner creative virtuoso.
And it is the array of sartorial themes, each of which takes its direction from the exhibit at the Costume Institute, which truly makes the Met Ball an unforgettable occasion. From the gala's 1971 Fashion Plate theme to the event's classical Charles James: Beyond Fashion motif in 2014, read on for every single one of the Met Gala's annual themes.
About Time: Fashion and Duration, 2020
The 2020 Metropolitan Museum and Costume Institute exhibit might have been postponed from May to October, but the curation by Andrew Bolton was already set and ready to go when the museum was forced to close their doors. With an extensive preview online, the museum explains, "Employing Henri Bergson's concept of la durée (duration), it will explore how clothes generate temporal associations that conflate past, present, and future. Virginia Woolf will serve as the "ghost narrator" of the exhibition."
Camp: Notes on Fashion, 2019
The 2019 Met Gala theme — and title — is inspired by Susan Sontag's 1964 essay 'Notes on 'Camp." The essay is largely responsible for naming 'camp' style, which is defined by Sontag as the "love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration."
Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, 2018
As Vogue reported, 2018's theme was meant to "highlight the enduring influence of religion and liturgical vestments on fashion."
Rei Kawakubo/Commes Des Garçones: Art of the In-Between, 2017
The ball of 2017 celebrated Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo, who famously once said, "The only way of doing something new is not to set out to design clothes." Hence the piece above, which features zero arm holes.
Manus X Machina: Fashion In An Age Xf Technology, 2016
This futuristic theme left the red carpet filled with what appeared to be robot-inspired outfits.
China: Through The Looking Glass, 2015
In 2015, the Costume Institute celebrated Chinese designers — including Guo Pei, the woman who created one of Rihanna's most iconic fashion moments ever.
Punk: Chaos To Couture, 2013
What better excuse to trot out your plaid and spiked finest than a punk-themed ball?
Rock Style, 1999
A rocker theme was the ideal way for celebrities and fashion icons to channel their inner rebels.
Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, 2008
The clothes proved it: the true warriors were women at the 2008 Met Ball.
The House of Chanel, 2005
Both Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld deserve endless accolades for their contributions to fashion, and the pair received their due admiration at the 2005 Met Ball honoring the House Of Chanel.
Cubism and Fashion, 1998
Art and fashion merged at the cubist-themed 1998 Met Ball. Picasso would have been proud.
A dance-themed ball proved genius, from the movement-friendly fashions to the spirit of celebration in the air.
Le Belle Époque, 1982
Beauty was indeed the watchword at 1982's Belle Epoque-themed celebration, from the gowns to the gilded accessories adorning attendees.
Anglomania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion, 2006
Alexander McQueen was one of many deserving British designers honored at 2006's AngloMania-themed celebration.
Untailored Garments, 1972
An insouciant spirit characterized 1972's Untailored Garments-themed gala.
The World of Balenciaga, 1973
The beauty and prescient designs of Balenciaga dominated 1973's exquisite Met Gala.
Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design, 1974
Old Hollywood glamour reigned supreme at 1974's Met Ball.
Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, 2012
These two sartorial visionaries lent 2012's Met Ball its elegance.
American Women of Style, 1975
Fashion's most powerful influencers took the lead at 1975's Met Ball.
Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years, 2001
An icon of classic American style, Jacqueline Kennedy was a timeless muse for the 2001 Met Gala.
Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century, 2004
The 18th century took a twist for the modern when the era served as the guiding light behind 2004's eccentric gala.
Christian Dior, 1996
Few designers possess the clairvoyance and precision of Christian Dior, whose style legacy inspired 1996's Met Ball.
Yves Saint Laurent: 25 Years of Design, 1983
The fashion community celebrated the sheer genius of Yves Saint Laurent's 25-year-old career in 1983.
Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style, 1993
The talented Harper's Bazaar editor was memorialized at the 1993 Met Ball.
American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity, 2010
Women again took the lead at 2010's Met Ball, where attendees including Doutzen Kroes paid tribute to femininity and the power of choice.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, 2011
2011 Met Ball attendees reflected on the unorthodox genius of Alexander McQueen during the ball.
The Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion, 2009
Top models such as Christy Turlington and Kate Moss were honored at 2009's Met Ball for their influence on the fashion industry.
Goddess: The Classical Mode, 2003
An unexpectedly feathered Anna Wintour graced the Met steps in a white gown befitting the gala's goddess theme.
Charles James: Beyond Fashion, 2014
A classic couturier whose work was lost to the winds of time, Charles James's keen eye for design was resurrected in 2014.
Gianni Versace, 1997
The visionary Gianni Versace was honored at 1997's Met Ball, where his sultry and liberated designs were recognized for their sheer brilliance.
Fashion Plate, 1971
1971's Met Ball theme may have been vague, but at the very least its "Fashion Plate" exhibit seemed sartorially-motivated.
The Glory of Russian Costume, 1976
The historical garb of Russia gave the 1976 Met Ball an educational and aesthetically-pleasing angle.
Vanity Fair: A Treasure Trove, 1977
The exalted publication took center stage at the 1977 Met Ball.
From Queen to Empress: Victorian Dress 1837–1877, 1988
Propriety and proper attire were in abundance at 1988's Victoria era-themed Met Ball.
Diaghilev: Costumes and Designs of the Ballets Russes, 1978
Nearly four decades before Black Swan hit theaters in 2010, Met Ball guests welcomed an exhibit highlighting exquisite Russian ballet costumes.
Fashions of the Habsburg Era: Austria-Hungary, 1979
Met Ball attendees were given an aesthetic treat and a European history lesson at 1979's Habsburg era-themed gala.
The Manchu Dragon: Costumes of China, the Chi'ng Dynasty, 1980
Chinese design from the Chi'ng Dynasty set the stage for a regal atmosphere at the 1980 ball.
The Eighteenth-Century Woman, 1981
The oh-so-experimental 1980s kicked off with a glimpse into fashion past with 1981's 18th-century-themed gala.
Costumes of Royal India, 1985
The rich patterns and delicate embroideries of India lent incredible depth to the 1985 Met Ball.
In Style: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Costume Institute, 1987
In truly meta fashion, the Met Ball decided to honor its own legacy in 1987.
The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire, 1789–1815, 1989
Napoleonic fashions ignited sartorial artistry at the 1989 gala.
Théâtre de la Mode – Fashion Dolls: The Survival of Haute Couture, 1990
Fashion industry titans graced the 1990 Met Ball in experimental garb, playing with the event's unexpected doll theme.
Fashion and History: A Dialogue 1992
Fashion is in part cyclical, and the way a society dresses does reflect current culture, beliefs, and politics, making 1992's theme especially provocative.
Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western Dress, 1994
1994's East-Meets-West exhibit spurred gala attendees to sport innovative designs that fused differing cultures into a single garment.
Haute Couture, 1995
Models including Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell celebrated haute couture at the 1995 Met Gala in predictably breathtaking style.
Poiret: King of Fashion, 2007
French designer Paul Poiret's incomparable designs gave the 2007 Met Ball its direction, allowing Cameron Diaz the opportunity to don a spellbinding fuchsia gown with turquoise gems for the affair.
Man and the Horse, 1984
Equestrianism unexpectedly served as the sartorial code behind 1984's Met Ball; perhaps Ralph Lauren was somehow responsible.
Images: Getty Images; Wikimedia Commons
This story was updated from its original version on May 4, 2020.
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