The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s steps aren’t just the entryway to priceless historical artwork or Blair Waldorf’s personal cafeteria 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 and memorable red carpet looks at the annual Costume Institute Gala.
From Zendaya’s light-up Cinderella dress to Rihanna’s now-iconic yellow Guo Pei gown, celebrities often make fashion history on the museum’s steps. Their dramatic entrances are oftentimes more anticipated than the exhibits themselves.
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 — that truly make 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. Don’t forget to tune in on the first Monday in May for the next of this history-making event.
Met Gala 2024 Theme: “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion”
This just in: next year’s theme is “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.” While little else is known about how this translates to the Gala’s dress code (archival pieces, perhaps?), Max Hollein, The Met’s Marina Kellen French Director and CEO, told Vogue about the pending “innovative” exhibit, saying it “will invite us to experience the multisensory facets of a garment.”
Met Gala 2023 Theme: “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty”
In 2023, the Costume Institute paid tribute to the late Karl Lagerfeld. As the creative director of Chanel, Fendi, and his eponymous label up until his death in 2019, the designer’s contributions to fashion for over half a century are enduring. That means there are 85 years worth of inspiration that stars and fellow designers drew from for the theme, “A Line Of Beauty.”
Met Gala 2022 Theme: “In America: An Anthology of Fashion”
To make up for skipping the annual event in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team at the Costume Institute gifted us with two Met Galas in an eight-month span. The 2021 theme was split into two parts, the second of which had a “gilded glamour,” dress code.
Met Gala 2021 Theme: “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion”
The 2021 Metropolitan Museum and Costume Institute exhibit brought the focus closer to home, celebrating American designers in the two-part, exhibit which was postponed from its usual May debut to September. Titled “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” the theme not only a way put the lens on American designers throughout history, but also shed light on emerging U.S. brands hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. It was also a way for celebrities to speak out about the social justice issues facing Americans today.
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 that year, but the curation by Andrew Bolton was already set and ready to go when the museum was forced to close its 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 — was 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 Of 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 2014 Theme: “Charles James: Beyond Fashion”
A classic couturier whose work was lost to the winds of time, Charles James’ keen eye for design was resurrected in 2014.
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 2012 Theme: “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations”
These two sartorial visionaries lent 2012’s Met Ball its elegance.
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 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 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 2008 Theme: “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy”
The clothes proved it: the true warriors were women at the 2008 Met Ball.
Met Gala 2007 Theme: “Poiret: King of Fashion”
French designer Paul Poiret's incomparable designs gave the 2007 Met Ball its direction, allowing Kirsten Dunst to channel his famous quote that he “freed the bust” in reference to his corset-free designs.
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 2005 Theme: “The House of Chanel”
Both Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld have received countless 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 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 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 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 1999 Theme: “Rock Style”
A rocker theme was the ideal way for celebrities and fashion icons to channel their inner rebels.
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 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 1996 Theme: “Christian Dior”
Few designers possess the clairvoyance and precision of Christian Dior, whose style legacy inspired 1996's Met Ball.
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 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 1993 Theme: “Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style”
The talented Harper's Bazaar editor was memorialized at the 1993 Met Ball. Vreeland served as Special Consultant for the Costume Institute from 1972-1989.
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 1990 Theme: “Théâtre de la Mode – Fashion Dolls: The Survival of Haute Couture”
Fashion industry titans graced the 1990 Met Ball to view the historic fashion mannequins created post-World War II by French designers to reignite interest in commerce after the war.
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 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 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 1986 Theme: “Dance”
A dance-themed ball proved genius, from the movement-friendly fashions to the spirit of celebration in the air.
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 1984 Theme: “Man and the Horse”
Equestrianism unexpectedly served as the sartorial code behind 1984's Met Ball; perhaps Ralph Lauren was somehow responsible.
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. This was the first time the exhibit honored a living designer.
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 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 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 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 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 1977 Theme: “Vanity Fair: A Treasure Trove”
The exalted publication took center stage at the 1977 Met Ball.
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 1975 Theme: “American Women of Style”
Fashion's most powerful influencers took the lead at 1975's Met Ball.
Met Gala 1974 Theme: “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design”
Old Hollywood glamour reigned supreme at 1974's Met Ball.
Met Gala 1973 Theme: “The World of Balenciaga”
The beauty and prescient designs of Balenciaga dominated 1973's exquisite Met Gala.
Met Gala 1972 Theme: “Untailored Garments”
An insouciant spirit characterized 1972's Untailored Garments-themed gala.
Met Gala 1971 Theme: “Fashion Plate”
1971's Met Ball theme was a call back to fashion illustrations that served as early fashion media and originated in the French court of Louis XIV.
Additional reporting by Alyssa Lapid.
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