All the Met Gala Themes Over the Years, From Dance to Manus x Machina

One of the biggest nights in fashion, better known as the Met Gala, is fast approaching, and we’re excited for the stars to bring this year’s theme to life. So far, we’ve seen a variety of creative Met Gala themes over the years, from Manus x Machina to last year’s In America: An Anthology of Fashion. And this year, guests will pay tribute to one of the biggest names in the industry: Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty.

In honor of the red carpet event, we’re taking a walk down memory lane to revisit some of the best concepts. Keep reading for a complete list of Met Gala themes, dating back to 1971.

A Brief History of the Met Gala

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The Met Gala, also known as the Met Ball and Costume Institute Gala, is an annual fundraising event that takes place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and it’s organized by Vogue magazine.

The tradition dates back to 1948, when fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert spearheaded the first fundraising event for the Costume Institute's annual fashion exhibit. For the first two decades, the gala included a special dinner that was held at venues like the Waldorf Astoria and the Rainbow Room. But in the early ’70s, Vogue’s former editor-in-chief, Diana Vreeland, joined the Costume Institute as a consultant and gave the event a major upgrade.

Thanks to Vreeland, it has become an elite and glamorous affair, complete with creative themes like Cubism and Fashion, the Costumes of Royal India and The Age of Napoleon. By 1995, when Vogue’s former editor-in-chief Anna Wintour became chairperson of the event, the official date moved to the first Monday in May.

What Is the Met Gala Theme for 2023?

This year’s Met Gala theme is Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty, which will honor the late designer's work. And for the exhibit, 150 of his original looks will be displayed alongside the original sketches.

The Costume Institute’s Wendy Yu Curator in Charge, Andrew Bolton, told Vogue, “At its heart, the exhibition will look at the evolution of Karl’s two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional garments. And what’s fascinating to have discovered: I always thought that his drawings were very spontaneous and almost impressionistic. But they were in truth extremely precise, almost mathematical.”

Met Gala Themes Over the Past 10 Years

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2022: In America: An Anthology of Fashion

Fans of period costumes will take a liking to this theme, which, according to the official website, “explores defining moments in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American fashion.” It was the second half of 2021’s two-part theme, and naturally, the stars dressed to the nines. Lizzo, Blake Lively, Michelle Yeoh and Glenn Close are just a few celebs who dazzled on the red carpet.

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2021: In America: A Lexicon of Fashion

Following the pandemic, the annual Met Gala returned with a bang by paying tribute to American fashion and focusing on ensembles with expressive qualities. At the time, Kim Kardashian stole the show in a black body suit that covered her entire face, complete with a matching train.

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2019: Camp: Notes on Fashion

The fun theme was all about the "camp" aesthetic. It encouraged guests to explore “how the elements of irony, humor, parody, pastiche, artifice, theatricality and exaggeration are expressed in fashion,” according to the site. Co-chairs for the event included Anna Wintour, Lady Gaga, Harry Styles, Serena Williams and Alessandro Michele.

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2018: Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination

The fascinating theme examined fashion’s relationship with Catholicism, and it inspired a plethora of halos, wings and jeweled crosses on the red carpet. Katy Perry, Chadwick Boseman, Rihanna and Ariana Grande are just a few who delivered standout looks.

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

This year’s exhibit highlighted the work of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, who is known for her bold and unconventional designs. Stars like Cara Delevingne, Zendaya and Rihanna turned heads with their unique, colorful ensembles.

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

The theme was all about the distinction between clothes made by hand (manus) versus the sewing machine (machina). Madonna notably wore a Givenchy number that became one of her most controversial (and revealing) ensembles to date.

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2015: China: Through the Looking Glass

China: Through the Looking Glass explored the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western fashion. The red carpet included breathtaking looks from Solange Knowles, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Kerry Washington. Wintour, Jennifer Lawrence, Gong Li, Marissa Mayer and Wendi Murdoch served as co-chairs.

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2014: Charles James: Beyond Fashion

The famed couturier was known for his stunning, elaborate designs, so it comes as no surprise that he got his own exhibit. Per the official website, the theme explored “James's design process, specifically his use of sculptural, scientific, and mathematical approaches to construct revolutionary ball gowns and innovative tailoring that continue to influence designers today.”

To honor his legacy, guests sported their most extravagant attire, from Sarah Jessica Parker’s Oscar de la Renta ensemble to Beyoncé’s dazzling homage to Diana Ross.

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Evan Falk/WWD/Penske Media

2013: Punk: Chaos to Couture

The stars took us straight back to the ’70s with their glam-punk ensembles on the red carpet. While discussing the theme, The Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton said in a statement, “Since its origins, punk has had an incendiary influence on fashion. Although punk’s democracy stands in opposition to fashion’s autocracy, designers continue to appropriate punk’s aesthetic vocabulary to capture its youthful rebelliousness and aggressive forcefulness.”

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2012: Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations

The 2012 exhibit explored the unique creations of designers Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli, who are both known for their unconventional work. Bolton, who was co-curator of the exhibit, told Allure, "It's more whimsical and conceptual than some of our exhibitions. It's really playful, and a nice conceit I hope other museums take up. It's not just about an aesthetic, but also about learning from the past and the present.”

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Every Met Gala Theme Dating Back to 1971

  • 2023: Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty
  • 2022: In America: An Anthology of Fashion
  • 2021: In America: A Lexicon of Fashion
  • 2019: Camp: Notes on Fashion
  • 2018: Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination
  • 2017: Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between
  • 2016: Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology
  • 2015: China: Through the Looking Glass
  • 2014: Charles James: Beyond Fashion
  • 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
  • 2001: Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years
  • 1999: Rock Style
  • 1998: Cubism and Fashion
  • 1997: Gianni Versace
  • 1996: Christian Dior
  • 1995: Haute Couture
  • 1994: Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western dress
  • 1993: Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style
  • 1992: Fashion and History: A Dialogue
  • 1990: Fashion Dolls: The Survival of Haute Couture
  • 1989: The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire
  • 1988: From Queen to Empress: Victorian Dress
  • 1987: A Tribute to Diana Vreeland
  • 1986: Dance
  • 1985: Costumes of Royal India
  • 1984: Man and the Horse
  • 1983: Yves Saint Laurent: 25 Years of Design
  • 1982: La Belle Époque
  • 1981: The Eighteenth-Century Woman
  • 1980: The Manchu Dragon: Costumes of China, the Chi'ng Dynasty
  • 1979: Fashions of the Habsburg Era: Austria-Hungary
  • 1978: Diaghilev: Costumes and Designs of the Ballets Russes
  • 1977: Vanity Fair: A Treasure Trove
  • 1976: The Glory of Russian Costume
  • 1975: American Women of Style
  • 1974: Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design
  • 1973 (December): The 10s, the 20s, the 30s: Inventive Clothes
  • 1973 (March): The World of Balenciaga
  • 1971: Fashion Plate

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Nakeisha Campbell

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...
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