The 2023 Met Gala: Why Is Fashion’s Biggest Night So Famous?

Every year in early May, the most famous celebrities in America and around the world gather at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in extravagant fashion created by famous designers. The event is one of the biggest red carpet events of the year, but it was not like that in the past. Explore the evolution of the Met Gala and its changes throughout the years.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the most notable tourist attractions in New York City. Every year, thousands of people visit the museum to see their most famous event – the Met Gala. (Photo Credit: Lucas Ferretti / Flickr / Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In the heart of springtime in Manhattan stand thousands of people waiting outside various high-end hotels barricaded by security guards. They have been lingering for  hours in the afternoon sun, which is now nearly setting. Cheers erupt. Cameras flash. Everyone stares at the hotel exit eagerly until a glamorous celebrity walks out the door. All anyone can hear is the crowd yelling and paparazzi snapping photos as the celebrity waves to the crowd and walks to their car. This is the beginning of a Met Gala evening, the most important night in high fashion. 

So, what is the Met Gala? Taking place on the first Monday of May at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City’s Midtown Manhattan, the Met Gala is an annual fundraising gala held for the Anna Wintour Costume Center (named after Vogue’s editor-in-chief Dame Anna Wintour). Each year, there is a theme that attendees must follow — usually based on a particular fashion designer that Wintour’s new exhibition honors.

Invitations to this gala are extremely sought after, with attendees coming from all over the world. Celebrities, politicians, and even royalty have attended this event, wearing unique outfits custom made by luxury fashion brands such as Versace, Oscar de la Renta, Gucci, and Dior. The majority of attention to the gala is centered around  the rich guests and the clothing they wear. However, the glamorous fashion is not the only aspect drawing attention to the event. Whenever the Met Gala takes place, the fame also comes from the discourse by viewers and publicity stunts by famous attendees.

History of the Met Gala

The Met Gala was originally intended to celebrate the opening of the newest fashion exhibition in The Met, but eventually, it became a social event. The first ever Met Gala was held in 1948 by publicist Eleanor Lambert to celebrate the opening of the then newly established Costume Institute at The Met. During that year, Met Gala tickets were $50, with only New York’s socialites invited to the fundraiser. Interestingly, the Met Gala was not celebrated at The Met but held in other places in New York such as Central Park, the Rainbow Room, and the Waldorf Astoria.

In 1971, Vogue’s former editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland joined the Costume Institute as a consultant. Vreeland transformed the idea of the Met Gala, making the event more celebrity-oriented and elaborate than before, inviting famous people such as Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John, Cher, Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Instead of changing the event’s location every year,, the Met Gala was permanently moved to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the event becoming less of a charity and more like a party with a unique theme that attendees needed to follow by dressing accordingly. By 1978, the Met Gala became cemented in American culture as the most glamorous night of the year, and only became more elaborate and flamboyant.

What Makes it So Interesting?

Besides the costumes and elaborate themes of the event, what truly made the Met Gala popular was the ease with which people could begin discourse on the event. As the years passed, the charity event became less exclusive to high society; the guest roster updated with time and brought attention to young people. The red carpet itself is a character – people look forward to predicting who will be on the carpet, and even whether the carpet looks good enough for the event. Now that the Met Gala has reached the social media age, audiences cannot help but to judge the event and the people there. 

The Met Gala creates controversy as a result of political statements, celebrity drama, people tampering with cultural artifacts, and even a cockroach being hounded by the paparazzi. Though people enjoy the MET Gala itself, the part that people actually care about is the entertainment value they receive from it.

Throughout the many years this event has taken place, there have been many controversial instances regarding the celebrity attendees. One of the interesting parts of the Met Gala is how many people have used it as a political sounding board. A notable instance of this is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance at the 2021 Met Gala. During this event, Ocasio-Cortez wore a custom-made white off-the-shoulder dress by Brother Vellies with the words “TAX THE RICH” written on the back in big, bold red letters. 

The statement itself made headlines, with reporters and politicians accusing her of hypocrisy for advocating for taxing the rich while attending a high society event. Others commended her for the message of the dress, stating that it is important for expensive events for high society to present these messages.

Politicians are not the only people to purposely draw attention to themselves during the Met Gala. Many celebrities use their head-turning looks to get people to talk about them on the Internet. For example, at the 2022 Met Gala, Kim Kardashian was subjected to criticism for wearing Marilyn Monroe’s nude dress from President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 birthday party. The reason Kardashian drew controversy from wearing this dress is because the dress was not made for her. 

During the time the original dress was being made, Monroe specifically requested that she be the only one to ever wear the dress. It was made exactly for her – the dress was sewn onto her, and the color was intended to match her skin tone, meaning that the dress was made so that nobody other than Marilyn Monroe could wear it. It was also reported that Kardashian ended up damaging Monroe’s dress. As a result, many people felt that Kardashian wearing the dress ruins the purpose of it and is blatantly disrespectful to Monroe’s legacy. 

We can also see the changes that take place every year through  the guest list. The Met Gala stays relevant through the guests invited (or not invited). One of the ways the event gets attention is by the new people who are getting invited. The Met Gala is always in tune with the current era’s pop culture. Ever since celebrities in Hollywood were invited to the event, the guest list has always been getting updated. The newest pop stars and actors essentially become grounded in their fame once they get an invite to the Met Gala. Notably, in recent years, TikTok stars and Internet celebrities such as Addison Rae and Emma Chamberlain, and most recently, rapper Ice Spice being invited to the Met Gala — with Chamberlain becoming a Met Gala regular — shows that the Met Gala keeps traction by following the younger generation in a smart business sense.

What Do People Think of the Met Gala?

The average opinion on the Met Gala is extremely mixed, with many people enjoying some aspects while vehemently disliking other parts. When asked about their opinions on the Met Gala, many dislike the concept of the event, while also feeling the need to tune in and view the spectacle. One of the biggest complaints people have about the event is that there are many instances where celebrities don’t follow the year’s theme. 

One major instance of this was during the 2019 Met Gala, when the theme was “camp.” Defined by Merriam Webster as “a style or mode of personal or creative expression that is absurdly exaggerated and often fuses elements of high and popular culture,” meaning that the outfits were meant to be extravagant and attention-grabbing. However, there were many celebrities who wore outfits that disappointed  audiences. The most notable example was Karlie Kloss’s look, which turned into a meme on the Internet due to her Instagram post anticipating the event. In the photo, Kloss wore a simple gold dress with black puff sleeves- a rather safe choice for an event that’s supposed to be camp.

Debanjoli Chowdhury ’23 stated, “I think that some parts of the Met Gala are overrated, as some celebrities don’t follow the themes and overall lack effort in their looks as compared to other celebrities who put thought into them. I think the outfits that have a clear message and connection with the theme deserves the attention.” 

Another aspect to consider is that even though many people enjoy fashion and seeing gorgeous people on the red carpet, the Met Gala can seem out of reach for many and shows luxury that most people could only dream of having. 

Susan Cohen ’23 said, “The event is for a good cause (raising money for the Met), but I agree with the people that say it seems dystopian for the richest people in our society to dress in extravagant clothing for their own amusement. Some people say the Met Gala reminds them of the Hunger Games, and I don’t entirely disagree with that statement.” 

As Cohen mentions, many people feel that the Met Gala is solely an event for rich people to parade around in their expensive outfits and go to a dinner that costs $50,000 for people to attend. This reminds a lot of people of The Hunger Games, as Cohen noted, since in the novel and movies, the wealthy people in the Capitol wore flamboyant outfits in order to show off their wealth to the common people who were suffering from poverty. Some people feel that it is extremely unfair that regular people must worry about their finances and how they can afford basic necessities while all the attention goes to celebrities who go to a charity event and spend thousands of dollars on couture clothes. 

In a way, the division between these two opinions only gives the Met Gala more attention. The discourse surrounding each annual event motivates more people to tune into Twitter and Instagram to see what attention grabbing headline they will get a hold of. The fame of the Met Gala relies on the audience itself, instead of the event. 

After the Met Gala became a more established and marketable event, and the guest list became less filled with old, rich patrons, but more so with the people famous towards the youth, they started drawing more attention to themselves. The themes, outfits, and guest roster give audiences something to look forward to and discuss, and  the politics, failures, and publicity stunts start controversy and arguments, ultimately bringing more notoriety to the event. Whether or not you like it, the Met Gala is not going anywhere. 

Susan Cohen ’23 said, “The event is for a good cause (raising money for the Met), but I agree with the people that say it seems dystopian for the richest people in our society to dress in extravagant clothing for their own amusement. Some people say the Met Gala reminds them of the Hunger Games, and I don’t entirely disagree with that statement.”