The History of the Met Gala, and What You Can Learn From It
If you’re into fashion or celebrity culture, there’s a pretty good chance that you know what the Met Gala is. Each year in May, the world’s most famous and glamorous folk don their fanciest and most elaborate outfits and attend the festive event at New York City’s largest art museum. While the Met Gala is a favorite event that fashionistas everywhere have grown to love, you may not realize that the event is actually 44 years old — and it is also way more than just a fun party for the world’s best dressed.
The Origins of the Met Gala
The Metropolitan Museum of Art— lovingly referred to as “The Met” — is an art museum located on the Upper East Side of New York, NY. The museum contains a huge variety of art, and one of its most unique departments is the Costume Institute. The Costume Institute was originally founded independently as the Museum of Costume Art in 1937, and it became a curatorial department of the Met in 1959. The Museum was created to house costumes and accessories from around the world, and today it contains more than 35,000 wearable pieces.
The Met Gala was launched in 1948 and was the brainchild of PR maven Eleanor Lambert. She billed it as the “Party of the Year” and included a dinner at midnight. In 1973, consultant Diana Vreeland wanted to bring more attention to the Costume Institute in order to raise more money. That’s when the gala took on the shape it has today. They decided to throw a large themed ball that marked the opening of a special annual exhibition from the Institute, and they invited a wide range of celebrities, journalists, fashion icons and other notables. That year, the gala incorporated a red carpet welcoming, cocktail hour to start, dinner and an official after party. Since 1973, the gala has continued, and it is now overseen by legendary magazine editor Anna Wintour, who has been in charge of the gala since 1995.
Nuts and Bolts of the Gala
The Met Gala is often considered to be the “Oscars” of fashion. Tickets cost upwards of $25,000 per ticket, and the guest list of the gala is overseen by Anna Wintour. Each year, a theme is designated for the night, and the theme matches or in some way parallels the year’s exhibition at the Costume Institute. This year, the theme of the Met Gala was Rei Kawakubo & Comme des Garcons (which is also the theme of the exhibition). Some other examples of former themes were Vanity Fair: A Treasure Trove in 1977, Costumes of Royal India in 1985, Theatre de la Mode in 1990, Cubism and Fashion in 1998, The House of Chanel in 2005, Punk Chaos to Couture in 2013, and Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology in 2016.
Also, each year, certain celebrities are chosen as honorary chairs of the event, and they help boost the exclusivity factor and panache of the evening. Over the past several years, the honorary chairs have included Jeff Bezos, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Marc Jacobs and Giorgio Armani. This year, Katy Perry and Pharrell Williams were the honorary co-chairs of the evening.
What You Can Learn From the Met Gala
Of course, the Met Gala is a party for some of the world’s most elite people. Additionally, it’s also the main fundraising event for the costume institute. However, the Met Gala is not simply a fun dinner and dance. In reality, the themes of the exhibitions and the gala are a reflection of the society and culture we live in, and the chairs of the event purposefully choose subjects to spark a dialogue or call attention to an issue. In this short film about the event, Anna Wintour said that, “Over the years, the gala has become a reflection of our changing culture — not to mention, an evermore glamorous arena for high fashion.”
One takeaway from the Met Gala each year is an issue or idea that should be at the forefront of your mind. This year, by focusing on Rei Kawakubo, the Met Gala is drawing attention to the breaking down of boundaries and the idea of “in-betweenness.” Many of Kawakubo’s clothes are genderless and call into question the idea of what it means to be masculine or feminine, which is an issue that has been hotly debated in the political arena over the past year or so.
Also, the Met Gala serves to cement fashion trends for the coming year. As the public takes in the styles of celebrities on the red carpet, an impression is made about what is stylish and “cool” to wear. This helps shape design trends and what clothing items will be popular to wear until the next year’s Met Gala. This year, guests to the Gala wore loud, interesting, avant garde outfits, which is a good indication about what fashion trends you will see in the coming months.
Each May, the Met Gala is an event that celebrities look forward to attending — and their fans anticipating — since it is regarded as a true spectacle. Despite its reputation as a party for the elite, it also has an impact on culture at large, and can be looked at as an opportunity for political or societal dialogue.