The Historical Background of the Met Gala

The annual Met Gala is held to celebrate the dresses on display inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but on May 6, all eyes will be on the celebrities in dresses that are works of art in themselves.

Hosted the first Monday of every May, the Met Gala serves to raise money for the museum’s Costume Institute. Over the years, the party has evolved from a dinner of Manhattan socialites to a must-watch red carpet and costume party, featuring star attendees from all over the world.

“It’s become one of the rare occasions when movie stars, models, designers, society swans, rock legends, athletes, politicians, and rappers, not to mention a cultural icon or two, come together to celebrate fashion—and get to spend a night at the museum,” writes Vogue editor-in-chief and longtime Met Gala co-chair Anna Wintour in .

Here’s how the Met Gala became the year’s biggest fashion event.

When was the first Met Gala?

The event started in December 1948 as a midnight dinner that cost $50 to attend.

The first Met Gala was the brainchild of fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert, who played a key role in launching N.Y. . She saw the event as a way to fundraise for the Costume Institute’s expenses and celebrate the opening of its annual exhibit.

Billing itself as “The Party of the Year,” it took place at the Waldorf Astoria, and guests donned their finest formal attire.

How the Met Gala became a themed fashion event

The Met galas started boasting themes in the 1970s, when legendary Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland became a special consultant to the Costume Institute (1972-1989).

The first themed Met Gala was the 1973 Cristóbal Balenciaga retrospective a year after his death. Notable themes in the Vreeland era include a Russian-themed costume exhibit—for which the renowned fashion editor was decked out in Slavic attire— and an old Hollywood theme—for which the singer Cher dressed head to toe in fringe. Vreeland is known for getting more celebrities involved in the event, like First Lady Jackie Kennedy, who served as a co-chair from 1977 to 1978.

After Vogue’s Anna Wintour took over the event in 1995, the party grew in size and began to include appearances from top names in film, sports, business, and music. As Wintour biographer Amy Odell for TIME in 2022, the party is not only a celebration of the Costume Institute, but also a celebration of Wintour’s dominance of the industry.

Through Wintour’s influence, the Met Gala has become one of the most exclusive annual fashion events. Each year, stars who get an invite show up dressed according to theme, or at least their interpretation of it. Sometimes the seem to suggest literal layers of meaning; at the 1996 Met Gala, stylists saw Princess Diana’s lingerie-inspired silky blue dress as a because she wore it the same year she got divorced from the then Prince Charles. Religious Met Gala-watchers will remember that time Rihanna took to the red carpet dressed as a in 2018, and outlandish Met gala looks arguably peaked at last year’s do when pop star Doja Cat showed up in

What to expect at the Met’s 2024 costume exhibit

About 250 garments and accessories spanning four centuries from the Costume Institute’s permanent collection will be displayed in new ways using artificial intelligence, computer-generated imagery, x-rays, video animation, light projection, and soundscapes.

Iconography related to nature “will serve as a metaphor for the fragility and ephemerality of fashion and a vehicle to examine the cyclical themes of rebirth and renewal,” according to the .

Designers include Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Stella McCartney.