Met Gala themes over the years: A look back at many first Mondays in May

By Elise Taylor

Photo: Getty

From designer retrospectives to celebrations of the supernatural, see all the themes of the Met Gala dating back to 1995

On May 6, actors, models, designers, athletes, politicians, and the world’s top tastemakers will attend the 2024 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The theme? “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” – which will unearth some of the rarest, and most beautiful, pieces in the Costume Institute’s permanent collection.


The Met Gala theme is an important one. It dictates the dress code (which this year is “The Garden of Time”), the decor, and most importantly, the larger purpose of the night itself. 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, asking: 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, while May 2019 explored “Camp” and its exaggerated artifice.

Below, we’ve charted out each year’s Met Gala theme dating back to 1995, the first year Anna Wintour became a chair of the event.

2023: ‘Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty’

Rihanna and A$AP Rocky in Valentino, Bvlgari and Belperron Jewelry. Photo: Getty

Pedro Pascal in Valentino. Photo: Getty

Gigi Hadid in Givenchy, LAGOS jewelry and Smiling Rocks diamond necklace. Photo: Getty

2023’s Met Gala was in honour of Karl Lagerfeld, the polymath designer whose six-decade career changed fashion industry as we know it. Featuring 150 pieces spanning from 1950 to 2019–which included top jobs at Chloé, Fendi, Chanel, and his own eponymous label – the exhibit explores his creative process and, therefore, legacy. Yet the show, stresses The Costume Institute’s Wendy Yu Curator in Charge Andrew Bolton, isn’t a retrospective. “We didn’t want to emphasise Karl the man, who has long been the subject of breathless mythologising, largely the result of his own self-invention,” he told the press in his opening remarks. Instead, they focused on the many concepts that governed his genius, organized by visual lines crafted by famed architect Tadao Ando. “The serpentine line signified his historicist, romantic, and decorative impulses, and the straight line denoted his modernist, classicist, and minimalist tendencies,” Bolton added.

2022: “In America: An Anthology of Fashion”

Pete Davidson in Dior Men and Kim Kardashian in vintage Jean Louis gown and Cartier jewelry . Photo: Getty

Bella Hadid in Burberry gown and Briony Raymond jewellery. Photo: Getty

Adwoa Aboah in Tory Burch. Photo: Getty

“In America: An Anthology of Fashion” was the second part of the Metropolitan Museum's examination of American fashion. (The first, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” debuted in September 2021 and served as the theme for that year's Met Gala.) Whereas “Lexicon” was an expansive look at American fashion as a whole – especially its younger designers – Anthology acted as a historical retrospective on both the designs and the stories of their makers. “The stories really reflect the evolution of American style, but they also explore the work of individual tailors, dress-makers, and designers,” Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, explains. “What’s exciting for me is that some of the names will be very familiar to students of fashion like Charles James, Halston, and Oscar de la Renta, but a lot of the other names really have been forgotten, overlooked, or relegated to the footnotes of fashion history.”

2021: In America: A Lexicon of Fashion

Kendall Jenner in Givenchy. Photo: Getty

Winnie Harlow in Iris van Herpen. Photo: Getty

Frank Ocean in Prada x Homer. Photo: Getty

Andrew Bolton, The Costume Institute’s Wendy Yu Curator in Charge, told Vogue he centred the 2021 event around the question “Who gets to be American?” which was originally posed on a red, white, and blue silk sash from Prabal Gurung’s 10th anniversary collection. “American designers are at the forefront of conversations around diversity, inclusivity, sustainability, gender fluidity, and body positivity,” he said. “The framework of the show enables us to focus on the younger designers who are engaging thoughtfully and deeply with those ideas.” The exhibition included over 100 pieces from American designers, ranging from Marc Jacobs to La Réunion.

Guests, which included co-chairs Timothée Chalamet, Billie Eilish, Amanda Gorman, and Naomi Osaka, abided by the night's official dress code: American independence.

2020: “About Time: Fashion and Duration”

The 2020 gala was postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic, but its theme is still worth revisiting: In honour of the Met’s 150th anniversary, “About Time” took a look back at a century-and-a-half’s worth of fashion. Bolton 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 said. “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”

Lady Gaga in Brandon Maxwell. Photo: Getty

For 2019’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.

2018: “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”

Blake Lively in Atelier Versace, Christian Louboutin shoes, and Lorraine Schwartz jewelry with a Judith Leiber Couture bag. Photo: Getty

Alexa Chung in ALEXACHUNG, Gucci shoes, and Buccellati jewelry. Photo: Getty

Emily Ratajkowski in custom Marc Jacobs, Messika jewelry, and Jimmy Choo shoes. Photo: Getty

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).

2017: “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between”

Rami Malek in Dior Homme. Photo: Getty

Edward Enninful in Burberry and Naomi Campbell in Azzedine Alaïa. Photo: Getty

Rita Ora in custom Marchesa and custom Casadei shoes. Photo: Getty

The Met Gala toasted the legendary Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo and featured her “objects,” as she likes to call them. Some guests, like Rihanna and Caroline Kennedy, stuck to the theme and sported original pieces, while others interpreted the topic through other designers. The event was co-chaired by Katy Perry and Pharrell Williams.

2016: “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology”

Beyoncé in a Givenchy Haute Couture dress and Lorraine Schwartz jewellery . Photo: Getty

Kim Kardashian West in a Balmain dress and Lorraine Schwartz jewelry and Kanye West in Fear of God. . Photo: Getty

Kristen Stewart in a Chanel dress and Repossi jewelry. Photo: Getty

The exclusive event went back to the future with tech at the forefront. Stars like Claire Danes literally lit up the ball in a glowing gown, while Emma Watson wore a five-piece Calvin Klein Collection set, which was made from recycled plastic bottles. The exhibition itself focused on the dichotomy between handmade and machine-made fashion, displaying more than 100 pieces of Haute Couture and ready-to-wear.

2015: “China: Through the Looking Glass”

FKA twigs in Christopher Kane and Lynn Ban jewelry and Robert Pattinson in Dior Homm. Photo: Getty

Jennifer Lawrence in Dior Haute Couture. Photo: Getty

Cara Delevingne in Stella McCartney. Photo: Getty

The gala celebrated China’s influence on Western fashion with a theme fit for an emperor. The exhibition was a joint effort between the head of the museum’s Department of Asian Art and the Costume Institute, showing looks from Chanel, Alexander McQueen, and Christian Dior Haute Couture. Attendees from George and Amal Clooney to Rihanna (wearing a stunning yellow robe by Chinese designer Guo Pei) dressed on-theme for a night at the museum.

2014: “Charles James: Beyond Fashion”

Arizona Muse in Ralph & Russo Couture. Photo: Getty

Gabrielle Union in Prada. Photo: Getty

Kirsten Dunst in Rodarte.

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.

From designer retrospectives 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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