Seven decades of style: The cultural evolution of the Met Gala from elite soiree to cultural epicenter

Seven decades of style: The cultural evolution of the Met Gala from elite soiree to cultural epicenter
(L-R) Rihanna, Amal Clooney and Blake Lively (Source: Getty Images)

The only Monday of the year that almost everyone looks forward to is the first Monday of May. One of the most important dates on a fashion calendar sees all the A-listers make a grand entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the event of the year - the Met Gala. A fundraiser, sets the grand opening of the Costume Institute's annual fashion exhibit raising over 13 million dollars every year for the museum. The fest started in 1948, hit its 70th anniversary this year and was co-chaired by Amal Clooney, Donatella Versace, and Rihanna.

The themes of the benefit have ranged from musical genres to individual designers to tributes. This year's theme 'Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination' is said to be the most ambitious show featuring a three-way dialogue, as it were, between fashion, medieval art, and treasures from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy, sacred to the Vatican.

When Met Gala was initiated in 1948, the benefit was a midnight supper for the invited guests. The ticket then was fifty dollars, now it is about 30,000 dollars.


During the late 40s till early 70s, the Gala was held off-premises in the Waldorf Astoria and other locations. It mainly consisted of dinner and light entertainment. As of today, in the age of social media, it is pretty much a best-kept secret to what actually happens inside. Entertainment has been rendered by A-list artists including Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars. It has been said that inside the Met Gala, Anna Wintour bans parsley (it can get stuck in your teeth), bruschetta (it can fall on your dress), and, dislikes when people are on their cell phones. That aside, elite fashionistas walk the red carpet and show off their designers' creativity according to the annual theme. The gala has become one of the strongest cultural icons, depicting an era of fashion movement.

Let us see the style evolution of the Met Ball since its inception that also made it to the most iconic list. 

The first event was organized by fashion publicist and CFDA founder Eleanor Lambert in 1948, two years after the Costume Institute became part of the Met.  It was usually held in December. Met Gala was always an elegant affair.


Pat Buckley and William F. Buckley at Met Gala 1978 (Getty Images)

During the 1970s when Diana Vreeland, a fashion columnist and editor of Vogue, became a special consultant to the Costume Institute in 1973, the gala became an elaborate affair. During that time, socialite Pat Buckley—wife of conservative author William F. Buckley became chairwoman in 1978 where themes turned Vanity Fair Treasure Trove and Russian Ballets.  

After Vreeland joined the event committee, leaving her post at Vogue in 1971 she turned the Met gala into one-of-a-kind party where guests went down an elevator and were welcomed into an opium den–like atmosphere, with faceless mannequins with pantyhose pulled over their heads and atmospheric music. The tone of the Gala was set for centuries to come.


Under Vreeland’s tenure, the Met Gala began to embrace popular culture and celebrity when it came to the guest list. Andy Warhol, Diana Ross, and Cher made appearances alongside society figures and politicians such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Henry Kissinger.

Andy Warhol in 1981 (Getty Images) 

Vreeland was known for her extravagant spending at Vogue and ensured the gala was a world-class event with Dorothy Draper–designed restaurant and fine perfumed hallways. Dessert tickets, which cost $100, allowed students and others to party. Vreeland, in many ways, can be credited for making Met Gala the event it is today.

Princess Diana (R) at Met Gala 1996 (Getty Images)

When mentioning the most iconic looks of the Met, the foremost comes Princess Diana in 1996 who wore a head-turning Dior slip dress designed by John Galliano.

When in 1999, Anna Wintour took over as chairperson of the Met she brought the power and resources of Vogue to the Gala. The event moved from December to April in 2001, following the cancellation of a Chanel exhibition in December 2000. The show was replaced with Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years, an exhibit curated by Vogue’s Hamish Bowles. 

Anna Wintour, till date curates the exclusive guest list and decor, maintaining the popular culture and celebrity invites. Athletes and models dine next to actresses and politicians, and celebrity co-hosts add additional star power. 

The decor of the Met Gala is an important aspect of art and architecture so it has only become more and more elaborate over the years. The Great Hall, Grand Staircase, and Charles Engelhard Court, where the dinner is held, expresses the year’s theme on a large scale. For 2006’s Anglomania, David Monn carpeted Charles Engelhard Court in grass and created an English garden complete with apple-tree hedges. There were also 35,000 daffodils and 12,000 hyacinths.


While red-carpet pictures are spread far and wide, the party itself remains more of a mystery. In 2015, the Met Ball instituted a social media ban, although selfies have been known to slip out every year.

This year's Met Gala, which had a first of its kind theme tackling the influence of Catholicism in fashion saw celebrities such as Blake Lively, Kardashians, Hadid sisters, Cardi B and Rihanna don the most surreal of hairstyles to stand in the theme of the Met.

Rita Ora attends Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)


Kate Bosworth attends Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)


Blake Lively at the 2018 Met Gala (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)


Amal Clooney and George Clooney at the MET Gala 2018 (Getty Images)


Here are the most iconic Met Gala looks of the past decade. 

Rihanna at the 2017 Met Gala (Getty Images)

No stranger to rocking the Gala theme year after year, Rihanna wore Comme des Garçons and Le Vian and DVANI jewels in 2017.


Kim Kardashian shines in Balmain (Getty Images)

In 2016, Kim Kardashian West donned all silver Balmain look.


Who can forget the Guo Pei gown Rihanna pulled off in 2015? (Getty Images)


Katy Perry in Dolce and Gabbana in 2013. (Getty Images)


Kate Moss in Marc Jacobs in 2007.(Getty Images)

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