A Look Back At Every Met Gala Theme: From 1971 To 2024

A Look Back At Every Met Gala Theme: From 1971 To 2024

On the fashion calendar, few dates are as important as the first Monday in May. That’s because every year, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art rolls out the red carpet for the annual Met Gala, the invitation-only fundraiser to benefit the museum’s Costume Institute. It also marks the opening of the Costume Institute’s annual spring fashion exhibit.

The Costume Institute houses a collection of more than 35,000 costumes and accessories spanning five continents and just as many centuries, and is the only curatorial department at the famed Met in NYC that has to finance its own activities. The annual gala is its biggest fundraiser and each year the event has a specific theme that influences the fashion choices of its attendees. Each theme reflects a unique aspect of fashion’s rich and diverse history, celebrating different eras, cultures, and iconic figures in the fashion world. The Met Gala themes often prompt attendees to interpret and embody the essence of the theme through their attire, resulting in a spectacular display of creativity and style.

As we wait for the 2024 Met Gala, 29Secrets takes a look back at every single one of the Met Gala themes from 1971 to 2024.

1971: “Fashion Plate”
1971 was the first year that the Met hosted the Met Gala and for their very first theme, the Costume Institute decided on “Fashion Plate.” This theme celebrated historical fashion plates (a person who dresses very fashionably) and emphasized the art of fashion illustration.

1972: ” Untailored Garments”
For the second gala, The Met highlighted the less formal side of creation with an “Untailored Garments” theme.

1973: “The World of Balenciaga”
In 1973, The Met hosted its third gala, a tribute to the famed Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895 – 1972). Balenciaga was known as “The King of Fashion” at the time and was one of the great masterminds of the period.

1974: “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design”
The glamour of Hollywood’s golden age of fashion was the theme for the 1974 event. (Hollywood’s golden age fashion is considered 1947-1957 when designers such as Dior, Balenciaga, and Chanel brought glamour back after World War II)

1975: “American Women of Style”
The 1975 Met Gala focused on American women who impacted fashion. Prominent figures from the 1800s to the late 1900s, including Irene Castle, Isadora Duncan, and Josephine Baker, were all acknowledged for their impeccable sense of style.

1976: “The Glory of Russian Costume”
The Met’s 1976 exhibition and the accompanying gala celebrated traditional Russian attire from the Soviet Union, from low class to the extreme upper class, many that were never before displayed.

1977: “Vanity Fair: A Treasure Trove”
In 1977, the Met Gala exhibition revolved around Vanity Fair magazine’s influence. Diana Vreeland, who served as special consultant to the Costume Institute from 1972 until her death in 1989, curated a “treasure trove” of 500 items from Vanity Fair‘s private collection for viewers to see.

1978: “Diaghilev: Costumes and Designs of the Ballets Russes”
The 1978 the Met Gala exhibition honoured Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev (also known as Serge Diaghilev), the founder of the famous Russian ballet company Ballets Russes and the exhibit featured a number of Diaghilev’s costumes and designs.

1979: “Fashions of The Hapsburg Era”
Although it no longer exists, the Austria-Hungary empire was in the spotlight for the 1979 Met Gala. Fashions from Vienna, especially Viennese court dresses, were prominently featured in the exhibit.

1980: “The Manchu Dragon: Costumes of China, the Ch’ing Dynasty”
The Costume Institute’s exhibition in 1980 showcased Chinese fashion from the Qing Dynasty, highlighting the embroidery and silks from the Chi’ng Dynasty.

1981: “The Eighteenth-Century Woman”
In 1981 The Costume Institute’s exhibition at The Met celebrated 18th-century women’s fashion.

1982: “La Belle Époque”
The 1982 exhibit centered the theme around the Belle Époque period, highlighting the beautiful era of French fashion. Starting in the early 1800s and spanning to the beginning of World War I, this period is characterized by optimism, economic prosperity, and technological and scientific progress.

1983: “Yves Saint Laurent: 25 Years of Design”
The 1983 exhibition paid tribute to Yves Saint Laurent (August 1, 1936 – June 1, 2008), the famous French fashion designer who became the head of the House of Dior at the age of 21 and opened his own fashion house in 1962.

1984: “Man and the Horse”
The 1984 exhibition explored the relationship between man and horse in fashion.

1985: “Costumes of Royal India”
India was the focus of The Met’s exhibition in 1985. The Costume Institute showcased the luxurious fashion of royal India.

1986: “Dance”
The 1986 exhibition celebrated the influence of dance on the fashion world.

1987: “A Tribute to Diana Vreeland”
1987 marked the 50th anniversary of the Costume Institute. (NOTE: The Costume Institute began as the Museum of Costume Art, an independent entity formed in 1937 and led by Neighborhood Playhouse founder Irene Lewisohn) The anniversary exhibition in 1987 honoured famed former Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland and her influence on the world of fashion.

1988: “From Queen to Empress: Victorian Dress 1837-1877”
In 1988 the Costume Institute looked to the Victorian-era for the theme of the exhibit and accompanying gala.

1989: “The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire, 1789-1815”
The French Revolution was the inspiration for the Costume Institute’s 1989 Met Gala and the accompany exhibit explored fashion during Napoleon’s reign.

1990: “Théâtre de la Mode – Fashion Dolls: The Survival of Haute Couture”
In 1990, the Costume Institute highlighted miniature fashion dolls from post-WWII for The Met annual exhibition and accompanying gala.

1991: (No theme)
The Costume Institute was closed in December 1991, which meant that there was no exhibition to accompany the Met Gala. But the fundraising night at the museum went on anyway.

1992: “Fashion and History: A Dialogue”
The Costume Institute re-opened in 1992 and the exhibition that year, and the accompanying gala, focused on the relationship between fashion and history.

1993: “Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style”
Diana Vreeland, one of the most famous and arguably most talented fashion editors in history, died of a heart attack on August 22, 1989. The 1993 exhibition and gala served as another tribute to her immeasurable contributions to the fashion world and the Costume Institute.

1994: “Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western Dress”
The 1994 exhibition and accompanying gala explored the influence of Eastern cultures on Western fashion.

1995: “Haute Couture”
In 1995 the Costume Institute celebrated high fashion and custom-fitted clothing with their Haute Couture themed exhibition.

1996: “Christian Dior”
In 1996 the Costume Institute honoured the renowned French fashion designer Christian Dior (January 21, 1905 – October 24, 1957) with an exhibition dedicated to his life and career in fashion.

1997: “Gianni Versace”
In 1997 the Costume Institute paid tribute to the late Italian designer Gianni Versace (December 2, 1946 – July 15, 1997), who was murdered in Miami just months before by Andrew Cunanan.

1998: “Cubism and Fashion”
The 1998 exhibition and accompanying gala explored the impact of Cubism on fashion.

1999: “Rock Style”
In 1999 the Costume Institute focused on the influence of rock music on fashion for their exhibition at the Met and the accompanying gala.

2000: “No theme”
The new millennium gala and exhibition didn’t follow a specific theme.

2001: “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years”
In 2021 the Costume Institute exhibition paid tribute to the former First Lady’s impeccable sense of style.

2002: “Goddess: The Classical Mode”
In 2022 the Costume Institute exhibition explored classical influences in fashion.

2003: “Goddess: The Classical Mode”
A continuation of the previous year’s theme.

2004: “Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century”
In 20024 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala focused on 18th-century French fashion and furniture.

2005: “The House of Chanel”
In 2005 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala paid tribute to the iconic fashion house Chanel, which was founded in 1910 in Paris, France.

2006: “Anglomania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion”
In 2006 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala explored British fashion’s traditional and rebellious elements.

2007: “Poiret: King of Fashion”
In 2007 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala Honoured the French couturier Paul Poiret (April 20, 1879 – April 30, 1944).

2008: “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy”
In 2008 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala explored the influence of superhero costumes on fashion.

2009: “The Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion”
In 2009 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala focused on the influence of models in the world of fashion.

2010: “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity”
In 2010 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala explored the evolution of American women’s fashion.

2011: “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”
In 2011 the Costume Institute paid tribute to the late Lee Alexander McQueen (March 17, 1969 – February 11, 2010) with Savage Beauty, a record breaking exhibition at The Met.

2012: “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations”
In 2012 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala explored the similarities between the designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada.

2013: “Punk: Chaos to Couture”
In 2013 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala focused on punk’s impact on high fashion.

2014: “Charles James: Beyond Fashion”
In 2014 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala celebrated the work of designer Charles James (July 18, 1906 – September 23, 1978).

2015: “China: Through the Looking Glass”
In 2015 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala explored Chinese aesthetics in Western fashion.

2016: “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology”
In 2016 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala focused on the intersection of fashion and technology.

2017: “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between”
In 2017 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala paid tribute to the famed Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo (born October 11, 1942).

2018: “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”
In 2018 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala explored fashion’s engagement with Catholicism.

2019: “Camp: Notes on Fashion”
In 2019 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala focused on camp as an aesthetic style.

2020: “About Time: Fashion and Duration”
In 2020 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala explored the concept of time in fashion.

2021: “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion”
In 2021 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala focused on American fashion’s diverse vocabulary.

2022: “In America: An Anthology of Fashion”
The following year The Met continued exploring American fashion with the theme of “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” for the exhibition and accompanying gala.

2023: “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty”
In 2023 the Costume Institute exhibition and accompanying gala paid tribute to the late designer Karl Lagerfeld (September 10, 1933 – February 19, 2019).

2024: “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion”
This year the Costume Institute exhibition will feature approximately 250 items drawn from the Costume Institute’s permanent collection—some very rarely seen in public before—will be displayed in an entirely new way. The pieces displayed will represent over 400 years of fashion history and will include at least 15 archival items deemed too fragile ever to be worn again. These exceptionally rare garments are the “sleeping beauties” of the Costume Institute’s collection. The accompanying gala will take place on Monday, May 6, 2023 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and will include a star-studded red carpet taking place on the museum’s iconic front steps.

Here’s Everything We Already Know About The 2024 Met Gala & Exhibit
THE STORY OF: The Annual Met Gala

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