Met Gala fashion: Best and worst theme looks

The ultimate theme party

Every year on the first Monday in May, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts a star-studded fundraising gala, the red carpet of which is any year’s most high-profile intersection of entertainment and fashion. The event also serves as the grand opening of the Met’s Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibit, which revolves around a different theme or designer every year, and Met Gala attendees are encouraged to dress in such a way to pay homage to the topic. So which celebrities have followed the annual fashion assignment and which have flouted it? Ahead of this year’s gala (which will be dedicated to the exhibit “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”), we’ve looked back at 10 years of Met Ball style to find the most and least relevant outfits for every one of its themes, from punk to technology to superheroes. 

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

Most on-theme: Rihanna and Tracee Ellis Ross

Last year’s Gala was devoted to the Japanese label Comme des Garçons and its founder, designer Rei Kawakubo. In short: avant-garde. Tracee Ellis Ross and regular Met Gala MVP Rihanna were as on-theme as could be, wearing the designer herself. 

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

Also: Katy Perry

Katy Perry didn’t wear actual Comme des Garçons, but got into the avant-garde spirit in this undoubtedly hard-to-wear piece from Maison Margiela by John Galliano. 

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

Least on-theme: Selena Gomez and Gisele Bündchen

Selena Gomez (in Coach) and Gisele Bündchen (in Stella McCartney) both looked so pretty in these lovely understated dresses! But pretty isn’t exactly the point for Kawakubo, and understated certainly isn’t. 

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

Most on-theme: Claire Danes and Karolina Kurkova

The red carpet went largely metallic in 2016 for “Manus x Machina,” but Claire Danes (in Zac Posen) and Karolina Kurkova (in Marchesa) took the theme to the next level in these classic dresses outfitted with LED lights, the latter of which was designed in collaboration with a computer. Additional shoutout to Zayn, who wore cyborg arms.

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

Also: Beyoncé

In embellished latex from Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci, Beyoncé was not quite as heavily on-theme as the literally glowing attendees. However, the Internet crowned her queen of the Met Gala that year, and what’s more “Manus x Machina” than the Internet’s approval?

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

Least on-theme: Blake Lively and Sarah Jessica Parker

The Burberry dress worn by a pregnant Blake Lively was very sweet, but made not even the slightest reference to the theme. Meanwhile, Sarah Jessica Parker’s Hamilton-inspired Monse suit acknowledged the “Manus” almost in defiance of the “Machina.” (The Sex and the City star would go on to defend the ensemble by explaining “We wanted it to be about the technology of thought, of application, of fabrication.” But come on! Some of these dresses lit up!) 

2015 — China: Through the Looking Glass

Most on-theme: Rihanna

Yes, Sarah Jessica Parker wore what appeared to be a flaming headdress. But Rihanna, who did extensive research into contemporary Chinese fashion and chose this fur-trimmed marigold gown from designer Guo Pei — some of whose work was included in the Costume Institute’s exhibit — takes the crown as one of the greatest, most relevant Met Gala outfits of all time. All time!

2015 — China: Through the Looking Glass: Madonna

Least on-theme: Madonna

When Katy Perry had “Witness” embroidered across her red veil in 2017, at least the outfit was sufficiently avant-garde. Madonna promoted her album Rebel Heart across her Moschino dress in 2015 without any nod to Chinese fashion. 

2014 — Charles James: Beyond Fashion

Most on-theme: Sarah Jessica Parker

In 2014, the Gala was all about Charles James, who was an inspiration to Dior and his iconic “New Look” (and was also reportedly an inspiration for Phantom Thread‘s Reynolds Woodcock). In short: Think ’50s glamour. Sarah Jessica Parker stole the show in this Oscar de la Renta creation which directly referenced James’ “Petal Dress.” 

2014 — Charles James: Beyond Fashion 

Also: Taylor Swift and Liu Wen

To get those ’50s silhouettes in 2014, Taylor Swift joined SJP and many others by turning to Oscar de la Renta, where she found this perfect pale pink dress with a train. Zac Posen’s immaculate tailoring made multiple appearances on the carpet as well, including with this stunning teal ballgown on Liu Wen. 

2014 — Charles James: Beyond Fashion

Least on-theme: Lupita Nyong’o and Cara Delevingne 

Lupita Nyong’o (in Prada here) and Cara Delevingne (in Stella McCartney) both have great style! Just not very midcentury!

2013 — Punk: Chaos to Couture

Most on-theme: Miley Cyrus, Rooney Mara, and Sienna Miller

Miley Cyrus (in Marc Jacobs), Rooney Mara (in Givenchy), and Sienna Miller (in Burberry) didn’t mess around when it came to 2013’s punk theme. 

2013 — Punk: Chaos to Couture

Also: Kim Kardashian

This Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci gown is actually pretty punk. Say what you want about Kim Kardashian, her “couch dress,” and her very presence at the 2013 Met Gala, but there’s nothing more punk than causing a commotion, and there’s no denying this look accomplished that much.

2013 — Punk: Chaos to Couture

Least on-theme: Gwyneth Paltrow

Speaking of what constitutes punk, in this case, are dress codes so inherently establishment that to adhere to them would be not-punk, regardless of the dress code’s specific parameters? So with that in mind, is dressing un-punk-ishly the most punk thing to do at a punk-themed party? Was Gwyneth Paltrow’s girlish pink Valentino Haute Couture the most theme-appropriate choice at the 2013 Met Gala? The mind reels.

2012 — Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations

Most on-theme: Chloë Sevigny and Kirsten Dunst

The 2012 exhibit imagined an “impossible conversation” between Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, who made their names in the 1920s–30s and 1980s–90s, respectively, but resembled each other in some of their ideas about and approaches to women’s fashion. How on earth does a celebrity dress for such a theme? A lot wore Prada. Chloë Sevigny, however, wore Miu Miu, which Miuccia Prada founded as a subsidiary of her grandfather’s design house; Kirsten Dunst gave a nod to Schiaparelli’s embellished jackets as well as both designers’ affinity for uniform-inspired style with this throwback look from Rodarte.

Why bother naming theme-abstainers when the exhibit is so inside-baseball to begin with? On to 2011…

2011 — Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

Most on-theme: Daphne Guinness and Ashley Olsen 

This legendary Costume Institute exhibit, staged the year after the iconic designer died, shattered attendance records (until “China: Through the Looking Glass”), and the Gala was attended by many of McQueen’s still-grieving friends. The most on-theme, naturally, were those who wore the late designer’s savagely beautiful pieces, including Daphne Guinness. But stars could still honor the artist’s provocative aesthetic in another label, as Ashley Olsen proved in vintage Dior couture.

2011 — Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

Least on-theme: Claire Danes and Dianna Agron

The number one way to not look McQueen-y? Plain column dresses like Claire Danes’ Calvin Klein Collection or Dianna Agron’s Michael Kors.

2010 — American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity

Most on-theme: Kerry Washington, Jessica Biel, and Emmy Rossum

Kerry Washington, Jessica Biel, and Emmy Rossum kept a patriotic palette in dresses from American labels Thakoon, Ralph Lauren, and Kenneth Cole, respectively.

2010 — American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity

Least on-theme: Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart

This was an easy theme, ladies. You didn’t have to wear stars and stripes (though Diane Von Furstenberg did). This was just about Fashion That Is American. And yet Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart, among a surprising number of others, wore (admittedly beautiful) dresses from European houses (in this case, Valentino and Chanel, respectively). You had one job! Save your French fashion for the Oscars!

2009 — The Model As Muse: Embodying Fashion

Most on-theme: Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, and Kate Moss

In 2009, the theme was essentially “The Met Gala, but make it fashion.” In other words: A total style free-for-all. Some went costume-y, some went avant-garde, some were just plain old glam. When the theme is models, the only real edge a red-carpet dresser might have would be being an actual model. So cheers to a pregnant Heidi Klum in J. Mendel, Tyra Banks in Badgley Mischka, and Kate the Great in Marc Jacobs, queens of the party.

Once again, we’ll forgo naming theme-ignorers, because it’s pretty impossible to wear an item of clothing that could not conceivably be worn by a model. So let’s throw it back to superpowered 2008…

2008 — Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy

Most on-theme: Kate Bosworth, Amber Valletta, and Victoria Beckham

Bring on the capes! Amber Valletta hit the carpet in a gold Versace gown of which Edna Mode would probably not approve, while Kate Bosworth interpreted the theme in comic book-colored Chanel. Victoria Beckham brought the posh and the spice in a high-collared coat by Giorgio Armani with major supervillain vibes.

2008 — Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy

Least on-theme: Beyoncé

Obviously Beyoncé looks beautiful in this ethereal pink Armani Privé. But when we think about what she might have done with this prompt, considering how much she’s experimented with fashion and theme dressing in recent years, we mourn the SuperBey catsuit that this missed opportunity might have otherwise given us. 

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