The Met Gala Theme Over the Years: A Look Back at Many First Mondays in May

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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”

2023’s Met Gala was in honor 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 emphasize Karl the man, who has long been the subject of breathless mythologizing, 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”

“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.”

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