The Metropolitan Museum of Art's steps aren't just known for serving as the entrance to historical artwork and sculpture, or for functioning as the cafeteria where Blair Waldorf ate each day on Gossip Girl. Thanks to the wide range of Met Gala themes, the steps of the museum have also seen thousands of the most imaginative red carpet looks at 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 unforgettable. 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 — ranked according to the most stylish and exciting.
Met Gala 2021 Theme: In America: A Lexicon of Fashion
The 2021 Metropolitan Museum and Costume Institute exhibit will bring the focus closer to home, celebrating American designers in their two-part, postponed, exhibit. Titled “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” the theme is not only a way to put the lens on American designers throughout history, but also to shed light on emerging U.S. brands hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Met Gala 2020 Theme: About Time: Fashion and Duration
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."
Met Gala 2019 Theme: Camp: Notes on Fashion
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."
Met Gala 2018 Theme: Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination
As Vogue reported, 2018's theme was meant to "highlight the enduring influence of religion and liturgical vestments on fashion."
Met Gala 2017 Theme: Rei Kawakubo/Commes Des Garçones: Art of the In-Between
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.
Met Gala 2016 Theme: Manus X Machina: Fashion In An Age Xf Technology
This futuristic theme left the red carpet filled with what appeared to be robot-inspired outfits.
Met Gala 2015 Theme: China: Through The Looking Glass
In 2015, the Costume Institute celebrated Chinese designers — including Guo Pei, the woman who created one of Rihanna's most iconic fashion moments ever.
Met Gala 2013 Theme: Punk: Chaos To Couture
What better excuse to trot out your plaid and spiked finest than a punk-themed ball?
Met Gala 1999 Theme: Rock Style
A rocker theme was the ideal way for celebrities and fashion icons to channel their inner rebels.
Met Gala 2008 Theme: Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy
The clothes proved it: the true warriors were women at the 2008 Met Ball.
Met Gala 2005 Theme: The House of Chanel
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.
Met Gala 1998 Theme: Cubism and Fashion
Art and fashion merged at the cubist-themed 1998 Met Ball. Picasso would have been proud.
Met Gala 1986 Theme: Dance
A dance-themed ball proved genius, from the movement-friendly fashions to the spirit of celebration in the air.
Met Gala 1982 Theme: Le Belle Époque
Beauty was indeed the watchword at 1982's Belle Epoque-themed celebration, from the gowns to the gilded accessories adorning attendees.
Met Gala 2006 Theme: Anglomania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion
Alexander McQueen was one of many deserving British designers honored at 2006's AngloMania-themed celebration.
Met Gala 1972 Theme: Untailored Garments
An insouciant spirit characterized 1972's Untailored Garments-themed gala.
Met Gala 1973 Theme: The World of Balenciaga
The beauty and prescient designs of Balenciaga dominated 1973's exquisite Met Gala.
Met Gala 1974 Theme: Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design
Old Hollywood glamour reigned supreme at 1974's Met Ball.
Met Gala 2012 Theme: Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations
These two sartorial visionaries lent 2012's Met Ball its elegance.
Met Gala 1975 Theme: American Women of Style
Fashion's most powerful influencers took the lead at 1975's Met Ball.
Met Gala 2001 Theme: Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years
An icon of classic American style, Jacqueline Kennedy was a timeless muse for the 2001 Met Gala.
Met Gala 2004 Theme: Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century
The 18th century took a twist for the modern when the era served as the guiding light behind 2004's eccentric gala.
Met Gala 1996 Theme: Christian Dior
Few designers possess the clairvoyance and precision of Christian Dior, whose style legacy inspired 1996's Met Ball.
Met Gala 1983 Theme: Yves Saint Laurent: 25 Years of Design
The fashion community celebrated the sheer genius of Yves Saint Laurent's 25-year-old career in 1983.
Met Gala 1993 Theme: Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style
The talented Harper's Bazaar editor was memorialized at the 1993 Met Ball.
Met Gala 2010 Theme: American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity
Women again took the lead at 2010's Met Ball, where attendees including Doutzen Kroes paid tribute to femininity and the power of choice.
Met Gala 2011 Theme: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
2011 Met Ball attendees reflected on the unorthodox genius of Alexander McQueen during the ball.
Met Gala 2009 Theme: The Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion
Top models such as Christy Turlington and Kate Moss were honored at 2009's Met Ball for their influence on the fashion industry.
Met Gala 2003 Theme: Goddess: The Classical Mode
An unexpectedly feathered Anna Wintour graced the Met steps in a white gown befitting the gala's goddess theme.
Met Gala 2014 Theme: Charles James: Beyond Fashion
A classic couturier whose work was lost to the winds of time, Charles James's keen eye for design was resurrected in 2014.
Met Gala 1997 Theme: Gianni Versace
The visionary Gianni Versace was honored at 1997's Met Ball, where his sultry and liberated designs were recognized for their sheer brilliance.
Met Gala 1971 Theme: Fashion Plate
1971's Met Ball theme may have been vague, but at the very least its "Fashion Plate" exhibit seemed sartorially-motivated.
Met Gala 1976 Theme: The Glory of Russian Costume
The historical garb of Russia gave the 1976 Met Ball an educational and aesthetically-pleasing angle.
Met Gala 1977 Theme: Vanity Fair: A Treasure Trove
The exalted publication took center stage at the 1977 Met Ball.
Met Gala 1988 Theme: From Queen to Empress: Victorian Dress 1837–1877
Propriety and proper attire were in abundance at 1988's Victoria era-themed Met Ball.
Met Gala 1978 Theme: Diaghilev: Costumes and Designs of the Ballets Russes
Nearly four decades before Black Swan hit theaters in 2010, Met Ball guests welcomed an exhibit highlighting exquisite Russian ballet costumes.
Met Gala 1979 Theme: Fashions of the Habsburg Era: Austria-Hungary
Met Ball attendees were given an aesthetic treat and a European history lesson at 1979's Habsburg era-themed gala.
Met Gala 1980 Theme: The Manchu Dragon: Costumes of China, the Chi'ng Dynasty
Chinese design from the Chi'ng Dynasty set the stage for a regal atmosphere at the 1980 ball.
Met Gala 1981 Theme: The Eighteenth-Century Woman
The oh-so-experimental 1980s kicked off with a glimpse into fashion past with 1981's 18th-century-themed gala.
Met Gala 1985 Theme: Costumes of Royal India
The rich patterns and delicate embroideries of India lent incredible depth to the 1985 Met Ball.
Met Gala 1987 Theme: In Style: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Costume Institute
In truly meta fashion, the Met Ball decided to honor its own legacy in 1987.
Met Gala 1989 Theme: The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire, 1789–1815
Napoleonic fashions ignited sartorial artistry at the 1989 gala.
Met Gala 1990 Theme: Théâtre de la Mode – Fashion Dolls: The Survival of Haute Couture
Fashion industry titans graced the 1990 Met Ball in experimental garb, playing with the event's unexpected doll theme.
Met Gala 1992 Theme: Fashion and History: A Dialogue
Fashion is in part cyclical, and the way a society dresses does reflect current culture, beliefs, and politics, making 1992's theme especially provocative.
Met Gala 1994 Theme: Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western Dress
1994's East-Meets-West exhibit spurred gala attendees to sport innovative designs that fused differing cultures into a single garment.
Met Gala 1995 Theme: Haute Couture
Models including Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell celebrated haute couture at the 1995 Met Gala in predictably breathtaking style.
Met Gala 2007 Theme: Poiret: King of Fashion
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.
Met Gala 1984 Theme: Man and the Horse
Equestrianism unexpectedly served as the sartorial code behind 1984's Met Ball; perhaps Ralph Lauren was somehow responsible.
This story was updated from its original version on May 4, 2020.
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