" Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Met gala will not take place on the first Monday in May. But while there will be no red (or, in last year’s case, pink) carpet sprawling up the steps this spring, the show will go on: the 2020 Costume Institute exhibit, “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” will open this October.
The gala is, yes, a major star-studded fundraising event, but its importance goes beyond dollars raised and social media impressions made. It’s a grand display of art as fashion and fashion as art, showing how both forms comprise and define our cultural fabric. Each theme is chosen with the utmost consideration—what story does this tell? What history does it teach? In 2018, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” showcased hundreds of holy items from the Vatican. A few years earlier, “China: Through the Looking Glass” celebrated China’s influence on Western and Eastern design. Last May explored “Camp” and its exaggerated artifice.
Below, we’ve charted out all the themes dating back to 1995, the first year Anna Wintour became a chair of the event. Take a virtual look back at fashion’s biggest night.
2020: “About Time: Fashion and Duration” This year’s gala is postponed indefinitely, but who says you can’t brush up on the theme early? In honor of the Met’s 150th anniversary, “About Time” will take a look back at a century-and-a-half’s worth of fashion. But its progression won’t be linear: “It’s a reimagining of fashion history that’s fragmented, discontinuous, and heterogeneous,” says Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. He found inspiration in Orlando, the 1992 film based on the Virginia Woolf novel of the same name. “What I like about Woolf’s version of time is the idea of a continuum,” Bolton says. “There’s no beginning, middle, or end. It’s one big fat middle. I always felt the same about fashion. Fashion is the present.” 2019: “Camp: Notes on Fashion” For last year’s exhibition, Bolton drew on Susan Sontag’s seminal 1964 essay, “Notes on ‘Camp’.” The essay describes a sensibility marked by performance, excess, and a kind of winking bad taste exemplified by figures like Oscar Wilde and outré aesthetic movements such as Art Nouveau. Among the pieces on display were dazzling looks from Off-White, Schiaparelli, Moschino, Dior, Thom Browne, and lots more.
Lady Gaga in Brandon Maxwell
Kylie Jenner in Atelier Versace wearing Lorraine Schwartz jewelry
Céline Dion in Oscar de la Renta and custom Chloe Gosselin shoes wearing Fred Leighton jewelry and a Noel Stewart headpiece
Jared Leto in Gucci
Jordan Roth in custom Iris van Herpen
Cara Delevingne in Christian Dior wearing Harry Kotlar earrings and a Maxior necklace and rings
2018: “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”
2018’s divine theme had hundreds of holy items on display, including dozens of artifacts and objects sent over from the Vatican (most of which had never seen the light beyond Rome). Guests rose to the occasion at the annual gala, with Rihanna dressing as the pope and Katy Perry as an angel (wings and all).
Travis Scott in Dior Men
Beyoncé in a Givenchy dress and Lorraine Schwartz jewelry
2014: “Charles James: Beyond Fashion”
The museum celebrated a major figure in the fashion world, but one less known to the general public. The Charles James theme was lively and highly anticipated, with a display of 100 of his most important designs. Co-chaired by Sarah Jessica Parker, Bradley Cooper, and Oscar de la Renta, the party was filled with ball gowns of the sleek and larger-than-life variety.
Madonna in Jean Paul Gaultier and Narcisa Pheres jewelry
From designer retrospective to celebrations of the supernatural, see all the themes of the last two decades, below:
2013: “Punk: Chaos to Couture”
2012: “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations”
2011: “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”
2010: “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity”
2009: “The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion”
2008: “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy”
2007: “Poiret: King of Fashion”
2006: “AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion”
2005: “The House of Chanel”
2004: “Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century”
2003: “Goddess: The Classical Mode”
2002: No theme
2001: “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years”
2000: No theme
1999: “Rock Style”
1998: “Cubism and Fashion”
1997: “Gianni Versace”
1996: “Christian Dior”
1995: “Haute Couture”
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