The Party of the Year, Every Year: The Met Gala

by Kyler Wesp

The first Monday of May. Outlandish costumes only the most elite can pull off. The “Oscars” of fashion. All these are synonymous with one event: the Met Gala. Every year on the first Monday of May, the Metropolitan Museum of Art puts on the most exclusive, lavish, well-dressed party of the year, with attendees ranging from our Queen Bey to the late Princess Diana. Unlike usual red-carpet events, the Met Gala attendees compete to see who can put together the best ensemble, one that perfectly encapsulates the specific outlandish theme from that year, whether it be “Punk: Chaos to Couture” or “Cubism and Fashion.” While readers at home may follow the fashions and appearances at the Met Gala like a religion, most don’t know the history or foundation of the event itself.

Kyler Wesp writes about the history and the foundation behind the Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
Met Gala circa 1961 had no theme. Partygoers wore formal wear and danced the night away at the Waldorf Astoria. | Photo Credit: Walter Sanders, the LIFE Picture Collection

Formerly known as “the Costume Institute Gala,” the Met Gala first came into existence in 1948 as the brainchild of Eleanor Lambert, a PR genius for the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Gala — aka “the Party of the Year” — was held off-site in Waldorf Astoria and consisted of a midnight dinner and light entertainment that cost a grand total of $50 per ticket (a drastic difference from 2018’s Met Gala ticket prices). The funds from the party went to The Costume Institute and helped premiere the main exhibit for that year. It was not until 1972, when Diana Vreeland became a special consultant for the Costume Institute, that the quaint off-site dinner became the party of the decades. The event was brought to the Met, where it has stayed ever since, and the tradition of inviting celebrities, journalists, leaders in fashion, and other high-status people was born. The idea of the re-branding was to bring in the big bucks from the elite attending the party, and that is exactly what happened.

Kyler Wesp writes about the history and the foundation behind the Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
Eleanor Lambert, the original lead creative behind the first Met Gala. Without this powerful woman, we would not have the opportunity to gush over the biggest event for fashion every year. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

In 1995, Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue magazine, became the head organizer of the Gala and since then, has further cultivated the “elite” atmosphere through the introduction of a red-carpet opening, cocktail hour, and an official after-party only for specifically invited guests. You must be at the top of every and any A-list to be invited to this party, for Anna Wintour chooses the guest list herself, and the price to attend is a whopping $30,000 per ticket. In addition to the strict attendee list, the Met Gala must be co-chaired by THE A-list names of the fashion world, including Beyoncé, Marc Jacobs, and Giorgio Armani. The 2018 Met Gala is co-chaired by the big wigs in fashion and pop culture: Donatella Versace, unofficial (but official) Met Gala idol Rihanna, and my personal queen Amal Clooney.

Kyler Wesp writes about the history and the foundation behind the Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
Anna Wintour strutting on the red carpet of the 2015 Met Gala. She wore a couture Chanel gown that emphasized the theme of the night, China: Through the Looking Glass. | Photo Credit: Larry Busacca, Getty Images

Throughout the years, the special theme of the night has complimented the art exhibit honored, with the 2018 Gala slated to be “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” rendered after the gallery-spanning art piece on religious visuals in fashion. While the theme may be taken as offensive to some due to its religious nature, Anna Wintour has stated in her documentary that: “The Gala has become a reflection of our changing culture — not to mention, an ever more glamorous arena for high fashion.”

Kyler Wesp writes about the history and the foundation behind the Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
This dress from Dolce & Gabbana’s Fall 2013 collection is slated to join the 200 pieces that will make up the 2018 Met Gala’s honorary exhibit, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” | Photo Credit: Imaxtree

The cultural significance of the Met Gala was presented perfectly in the theme for 2017: “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between.” This exhibit commented on the idea of a genderless world in which there existed a blurry line between femininity and masculinity. In the past few years, there has been an increased amount of conversation surrounding this idea of gender non-conformity and nonbinary fashion, so by showcasing an exhibit such as Kawakubo’s, the Costume Institute is “reflecting the changing culture” of today (as Anna Wintour once said).  

Kyler Wesp writes about the history and the foundation behind the Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
Ruth Negga perfectly exemplifies the gender neutral theme of the 2017 Met Gala “Comme des Garcons” in a Valentino Haute Couture gown. The straight silhouette paired with her slick hairstyle create an aura of masculine femininity that mirrors the art exhibit honored that night. | Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Despite the potential controversy this Met Gala brings, the guest list is still slated to include many first-class individuals, and the costumes are still expected to be out-of-this-world. The Gala has evolved since 1948 into an elite, attention-worthy celebration of fashion and culture, so who knows what fantastic elements will be introduced in the future? We can only hope for an outpouring of incredible fashion, interesting appearances, and an event to remember for decades to come. •

Kyler Wesp writes about the history and the foundation behind the Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
The Vatican is loaning over 40 papal pieces to the Met Gala, like this miter of Pope Pius XI. Most of these pieces have never left the Vatican, making this Met Gala one to be remembered. | Photo Credit: Domenico Stinellis

Kyler Wesp is a first-year Psychology Major. In her spare time, she can be found reading a book at the Austin Public Library, sipping coffee with her friends or finding hidden local spots within the city. This is her first semester working for Spark.

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