What the Met Gala Themes Have Been In Years Past & What People Wore

Met Gala, known as the fashion industry’s Oscars or the party of the year, was introduced in 1948 — two years after the Museum of Costume Art merged with The Metropolitan Museum of Art to become The Costume Institute in 1946. Each May, the annual fundraising event celebrates the opening of the spring exhibition. While this year brings an unexpected challenge, as social gatherings are not allowed, the spirit of the Met Gala lives on through social media with Vogue’s #MetGalaChallenge and the #HFMetGala2020 on Twitter.

In honor of the first Monday in May, take a look back at what the Costume Institute’s exhibition themes have been in years past.

2019: Camp: Notes on Fashion 

Last year’s Met Gala was full of fabulous looks (and lots of feathers). The theme honored Susan Sontag’s famous fashion essay, “Camp: Notes on Fashion.” 

Billy Porter at the opening of Camp: Notes on Fashion, the blondes, giuseppe zanotti shoes
Billy Porter at the opening of Camp: Notes on Fashion.
CREDIT: Kristin Callahan/Shutterstock

Billy Porter, Lady Gaga, as well as Kendall and Kylie Jenner were just some of the fashion highlights of the evening.

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

The Costume Institute’s Rei Kawakubo exhibit was the first show at the museum that focused on a designer since the Yves Saint-Laurent exhibit in 1983.

Rihanna at the opening of Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between, commes des garcones, met gala looks
Rihanna at the opening of Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between.
CREDIT: James Gourley/Shutterstock

Rihanna’s Comme des Garcons look was one memorable look that honored the Japanese designer. Other celebs who wore Kawakubo’s designs to costume ball included Pharrell Williams, the co-chair of the 2017 Met Gala and Tracee Ellis Ross.

2015: China: Through the Looking Glass
In 2015, the exhibition explored the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western fashion.

Rihanna Met Gala 2015
Rihanna on the red carpet wearing Guo Pei Couture with Christian Louboutin fall ’15 Toerless Muse strappy shoes.
CREDIT: Getty Images.

Stand-outs on the Met Gala red carpet included Rihanna, wearing the dramatic Guo Pei Couture ensemble with Christian Louboutin heels, Sarah Jessica Parker and Beyoncé.

2013: Punk: Chaos to Couture
Met Gala guests didn’t hold back when it came to channeling this theme into their red carpet attire. The 2013 exhibition examined punk’s impact on high fashion.

Miley Cyrus Met Gala 2013
Miley Cyrus in Marc Jabobs at the Punk: Chaos to Couture-themed gala in 2013.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Highlights from the event came from Miley Cyrus and Madonna.

2011: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
The 2011 exhibition celebrated the late Alexander McQueen and his impact on the fashion industry. Approximately 100 ensembles and 70 accessories were featured, including his first-ever collection as well as his final runway presentation.

Ashley Olsen Met Gala 2011
Ashley Olsen and Christian Louboutin in 2011.
CREDIT: REX Shutterstock.

This was one of the Costume Institute’s most successful attractions. In the exhibitions last hours, thousands lined up around the block outside The Metropolitan Museum of Art for more than four hours, according to The Wall Street Journal.

2009: The Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion
In 2009, Kate Moss co-chaired the Met Gala, with Marc Jacobs sponsoring the exhibit. The two walked the red carpet arm-in-arm.

Kate Moss Marc Jacobs Met Gala 2009
Marc Jacobs and Kate Moss at the 2009 Met Gala.
CREDIT: REX Shutterstock.

The exhibit focused on iconic models of the twentieth century, including Moss, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, and their roles in the evolution of the fashion industry. The exhibition featured haute couture and ready-to-wear pieces with photography and video footage of models during their respective era.

2006: AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion
Who could forget Sarah Jessica Parker and Alexander McQueen’s matching tartan ensembles? In 2006, the Costume Institute celebrated British fashion and its designers, and some Met Gala guests took the theme quite literally.

Sarah Jessica Parker Met Gala 2006
Alexander McQueen and Sarah Jessica Parker the AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion-themed benefit in 2006.
CREDIT: REX Shutterstock

Diane von Furstenberg famously wore a Union Jack dress, as did Linda Fargo.

That year, Rose Marie Bravo, Chief Executive of Burberry, and the Duke of Devonshire served as Honorary Chairs of the gala. Co-Chairs were Christopher Bailey, Creative Director of Burberry, and actress Sienna Miller.

2004: Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century
This 2004 exhibition focused on fashion and its interplay with art, furniture, and decorative arts between 1750 and 1789. According to the museum, “The exhibition [explored] the dressed body’s spatial negotiation of the eighteenth-century interior as a choreography of seduction and erotic play.” 

Scarlett Johansson was one of the best-dressed attendees that year, wearing a yellow Calvin Klein gown.

Scarlett Johansson Met Gala 2004
Scarlett Johansson wearing Calvin Klein in 2004.
CREDIT: REX Shutterstock.

2001: Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years
This exhibition took place in 2001 to celebrate Jacqueline Kennedy with a presentation of her iconic fashions. Nearly 80 costumes were displayed, featuring clothing worn by the former first lady on the campaign trail, during inaugural festivities and at the White House.

1983: Yves Saint Laurent: 25 Years of Design
In 1983, the Costume Institute dedicated its fashion exhibition to the work of a living designer for the first time. One hundred and fifty YSL styles were put on display. According to a 1983 New York Times article, 810 guests attended the year’s Met Gala, paying $500 for a dinner ticket. In 2016, attendees paid $30,000 per ticket.

Diane von Furstenberg Met Gala 1983
Diane von Furstenberg at the Costume Institute annual gala for a retrospective of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent in 1983.
CREDIT: REX Shutterstock.

Other notable themes included 1999’s Rock Style exhibit, Haute Couture in 1995 and Christian Dior in 1996.

Click through the gallery to see what guests wore at the Met Gala throughout the years.

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