The Met Gala as we know it today is one of the biggest events for fashion, celebrities and pop culture alike.
However, it wasn’t always the star-studded and dramatic costume-filled night it is now. It first started off as a charity event created by publicist Eleanor Lambert to raise funds for the then-newly founded Costume Institute.
The event took a cultural shift when Diana Vreeland was tapped as a consultant for the Costume Institute, changing the venue of the Met Gala to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and adding gala themes.
Now, Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour oversees the benefit, guest list and theme, working closely with the Met each year for the event. She also is said to even approve what designers the high-profile guests wear, and rejecting a table sponsor’s chosen guests in favor of others.
Here, WWD breaks down all you need to know about the history of the Met Gala. Scroll on for more.
How did the Met Gala start?
The Met Gala was founded in 1948 by Lambert, a renowned fashion publicist, as a means to fundraise for the Costume Institute and mark the opening of its annual exhibit. Lambert is also known for being the founder of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which she established in 1962.
The Costume Institute, created by Irene Lewisohn and Aline Bernstein and initially called the Museum of Costume Art, merged with the Museum of Metropolitan Art in 1946.
The first Met Gala was a dinner held that December, with tickets going for $50 each. From its creation until 1971, the event was not held in the Met as it is today, but in venues such as Central Park, the Rainbow Room and the Waldorf Astoria.
What was the Met Gala’s initial purpose?
The event started off as a fundraiser for the Costume Institute, serving as an opening celebration for its annual exhibit. After the Met Gala, the exhibit is in the museum for several months.
Today, the Met Gala is still known as one of the biggest fundraiser benefits in New York City. According to Forbes, the Met Gala has raised more than $175 million for the Costume Institute. Each year, the event manages to pull in an abundance of funds, with the 2019 edition reportedly raising a record $15 million.
When did the Met Gala transition into a more social event?
After Vreeland’s tenure as Vogue’s editor in chief, the famed French American fashion editor and columnist joined the Costume Institute as a consultant, shifting the cultural gears of the event.
It was under Vreeland’s time with the institute that the event became more elaborate and celebrity-oriented as the guest list expanded to include the biggest stars of that time, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross, Elton John, Cher, Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, Halston, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Bianca Jagger, among others.
It was during Vreeland’s tenure the event started being held at the Met and themes for the galas were introduced. Instead of making it a typical charity event, Vreeland turned it into more of a party.
With the addition of socialite Pat Buckley, who was married to conservative author William F. Buckley, in 1978, the Met Gala cemented itself as one of the biggest and most exclusive charity events in the social calendar.
How did the costumes at the Met Gala become more extravagant over the years?
Under Vreeland, the Met Gala became more associated with popular culture, thus becoming an event with immense publicity and press coverage.
She introduced Gala themes, with the first one being “The World of Balenciaga” in 1973. Other exhibitions she worked on with the Met included “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design,” “Vanity Fair: A Treasure Trove” and “La Belle Époque,” among others.
It was not until 2004, when the theme was “Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century,” that the Met Gala became an event with more elaborate costume moments. Notably, model-actress Amber Valletta wore a Marie Antoinette-meets-punk rock look that year, with a nude corset by Maggie Norris Couture and skirt by John Galliano, complete with an 18th-century hairstyle.
Over the years, exhibitions have also been dedicated to certain designers, such as Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Christian Dior, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Schiaparelli and Prada, among others.
Vreeland worked with the Met until her death in 1989.
Wintour took over as chairwoman in 1995, overseeing the benefit and the guest list, which is limited to about 650 to 700 people each year. She also switched the date of the Met Gala from it being held in December to the first Monday of May. In the past, the event was a cocktail hour followed by dinner; in recent years, the dinner has become more hors d’oeuvres.
How have the ticket prices changed for the Met Gala?
With time, the ticket prices have increased dramatically, with the current price of one ticket to be reportedly around $30,000.
From the 1970s going into the 1980s, the price of admission was reportedly still less than $1,000. By 1998, the price of a single ticket increased to $2,000. Three years later, it increased to $3,500.
Into the 2010s, the Met Gala became a more celebrity-filled event, with the addition of current pop culture icons such as Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Beyoncé, Rihanna, the Hadid sisters, the Kardashian-Jenner clan and more. By 2016, solo ticket prices cost $25,000 and a table for 10 could be purchased for $250,000, according to a report by WWD.
Typically, designers purchase the tables and fill them up with celebrities they’re dressing for the event. However, each person on the guest list has to be approved by the event’s chairwoman: Wintour. And she is picky — there are numerous stories of Wintour telling a company that has purchased a table that their intended guests were not up to her standards and instead she was placing other guests there (and still the company had to pay).
What is the Met Gala like now?
Nowadays, the Met Gala is still one of the biggest events in fashion today, known in popular culture as “Fashion’s Biggest Night.” But where in the past the evening was considered the height of fashion chic, in recent years, it has become a platform for many celebrities to display their more outrageous sides.
Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Madonna and many others attend the exclusive event dressed to the nines, wearing custom, elaborate costumes by some of the biggest fashion houses. Last year, Balenciaga dressed Kardashian and Rihanna while Jenner and Hadid wore Givenchy and Prada, respectively.
In 2019, with the theme “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” show-stopping stars like Lady Gaga and Billy Porter made sure to make their grand entrances go down in history, with the former strutting four different outfits on the red carpet, all designed by Brandon Maxwell, while Porter arrived dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh with an outfit by The Blonds, even being carried by six men onto the carpet.
At the event, there is a strict no-social media policy, though some celebrities still manage to sneak in a few photos or two. A favorite spot for selfies in years past has been the ladies’ room, where numerous designers (including men) and models would sneak into and grab a cigarette — until the Met put a firm foot down and banned the practice.
When is the 2023 Met Gala?
The 2023 Met Gala will take place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1.
The event and subsequent museum exhibition focuses on the theme, “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty.” This year’s dress code will naturally be in honor of the iconic fashion designer and former creative director of Chanel, who died in February 2019.
Each year, the co-chairs for the event change. This year, Penelope Cruz, Michaela Coel, Roger Federer and Dua Lipa have been named the co-chairs.
Last year’s Met Gala followed the theme “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.” The dress code was “Gilded Glamour,” which took inspiration from The Gilded Age in New York during the time period between 1870 to 1890. In 2021, the annual event was postponed to September due to the pandemic.
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