It’s been the subject of books, a documentary, and over one million hashtags on social media, but how much do you really know about the history behind the Met Gala? Officially known as the Costume Institute Benefit or Costume Institute Gala, the Met Gala raises funds for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, while at the same time celebrating the opening of the Met’s corresponding annual exhibition.
The Met Gala began as a $50 ticketed dinner held at some of New York City’s most iconic locations, but in the years since, has transformed into a multimillion-dollar extravaganza that takes place inside the famous museum, attended by a select group of A-listers and followed by some *very* over-the-top afterparties. As the Met Gala’s profile has risen, so has the cost to enter—in 1998, ticket prices rose to around $2,000, and they’ve only increased in the years since; in 2022, tickets reportedly cost $35,000 each.
Ahead, you’ll find a comprehensive history of the Met Gala, from its early days as high society’s party of the year to its current iteration as a who’s who of Hollywood’s most fashionable.
The First Met Gala
The Met Gala’s beginnings go all the back to 1937, when American heiress and philanthropist Irene Lewisohn founded the Costume Institute (formerly the Museum of Costume Art). In 1946, the Museum of Costume Art merged with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and became the Costume Institute. Two years later, legendary fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert introduced the Costume Institute Benefit, the first fundraising event for the foundation, to celebrate the opening of the annual exhibit. The original benefit was an invitation-only midnight supper, with a guest list comprised primarily of New York society members and fashion industry bigwigs, and tickets priced at $50 per person. These early Costume Institute Benefits took place at various locations across New York City, in venues including Central Park, Waldorf Astoria and the Rainbow Room.
Through the Years
It was upon former Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland’s appointment as the Costume Institute’s special consultant that the modern-day Met Gala began to take shape. During Vreeland’s tenure, which began in 1972, the Met Gala moved on-site to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and gala themes tied to each exhibit were launched. Vreeland served as special consultant until her death in 1989; she was behind ambitious exhibitions such as “The World of Balenciaga” (1973) and “The Glory of Russian Costume,” (1976), and hosted a more star-studded guest list, with notable figures like socialite Patricia Buckley and former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis acting as Met Gala co-chairs over the years.
Anna Wintour’s Met Gala
With the Met Gala firmly established as the social event of the season, Buckley took over hosting duties until Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour became chairwoman in 1995. Wintour has overseen the Met Gala ever since (excluding the 1996 and 1998 fêtes), building upon the party’s success and cementing its status as one of the biggest events—and most coveted invitations—of the year.
Wintour is involved in all of the planning and the execution of the Met Gala, and that includes the much-discussed guest list. After taking over, Wintour began to curate the guest list to mirror the pages of Vogue, including a mix of A-list celebrities, socialites, athletes, politicians, and royalty. Under Wintour, Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton were brought on as curator-in-charge and curator; Bolton would later be promoted to curator-in-charge following Koda’s retirement in 2016. Together and independently, they worked on exhibitions including “Chanel” (2005), “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” (2011), and “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations” (2012).
In 2005, Wintour moved the gala to the first Monday in May, which has remained the official date of the party with the exceptions of the COVID-era years. Wintour also introduced celebrity performances as part of the evening’s entertainment; over the years, musicians including Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Madonna, and Cher have taken the stage.
During her over 20-year reign, Wintour has reportedly raised more than $175 million to benefit the Costume Institute’s exhibitions, staff, and research (the 2022 Met Gala alone brought in a record $17.4 million). As a tribute to Wintour, the Metropolitan Museum of Art renamed its Costume Institute the Anna Wintour Costume Center in 2014, which was unveiled just in time for that year’s “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” exhibition, following two years of renovations.
The 2023 Met Gala
As is tradition, the 2023 Met Gala will take place on the first Monday in May, which this year happens to fall on May 1. The exhibition theme, “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” will celebrate the late, iconic designer’s career, which began after a coat he designed won an International Woolmark Prize in Paris in 1954, and eventually grew to include contracts as the creative director of both Fendi, Balmain, Chloé, and, of course, Chanel. The Costume Institute notes that the exhibit will display Lagerfeld’s sketches alongside approximately 150 pieces of his work when it opens to the public from May 5 through July 16, 2023. While the full guest list is never confirmed prior to the Met Gala, a press release announced that Dua Lipa, Penélope Cruz, Michaela Coel, and Roger Federer will join Wintour as co-chairs.
While the Met Gala red carpet is one of the most-photographed moments of the year, the party inside is a more secretive affair, as there’s technically a social media ban for guests upon entering the fête—that said, there have been quite a few pictures (and a few notable bathroom selfies) that have made their way into the world despite the ban. Vogue, however, is not subject to the social media block, and will be broadcasting their annual red carpet livestream across YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages beginning at 6:30 pm EST, so you can get the first look at every major fashion moment.
The 2023 Met Gala will take place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday, May 1, with red carpet arrivals starting at 6:30 pm EST.