The Met Gala is where celebrities ascend to style icon status. On the first Monday in May, stars don’t just walk the red carpet, they climb the steps of the Metropolitan Museum in statement couture presenting their interpretation of the exhibition’s theme to the entire world. Unlike an awards show or a premiere, the goal isn’t to shine for a moment, it’s to create a look that resonates for decades. Despite the wealth of designer gowns and bespoke suits, few accomplish that feat, but those who do earn themselves a place in fashion history. The greatest hits—Rihanna’s papal chic, Kate Moss’s golden turban, Sarah Jessica Parker’s tartan Alexander McQueen, Erykah Badu’s glittering top hat, Madonna in a hippie caftan—rank among the best outfits ever to be worn. And their charms wouldn’t have been as compelling on another night.
The gala encourages the kind of innovation rarely seen elsewhere. The Costume Institute’s trove of landmark runway creations serves as an inspiration for guests, allowing them to take on fashion at its most avant-garde. Where else will you see Cardi B. and a small army of assistants move a mountainous red Thom Browne train across a pink carpet? Or watch awestruck as Lady Gaga and Brandon Maxwell take their magenta nesting doll ballgown to the streets, much to the delight of New Yorkers. A standout Met look can be performative (Amber Valletta going full baroque in 2004), subversive (Daphne Guinness in a plume of McQueen feathers in 2011), witty (Karolina Kurkova’s playful Viktor and Rolf in 2015, or referential (the Olsen twins and their yearly vintage surprise), it just can’t be boring.
The celebration in honor of the “About Time” show was canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis, but New York’s biggest night returned last year with a fete in honor of America: A Lexicon of Fashion. In 2022 the party continues with a celebration for the exhibition’s part two, In America: An Anthology of Fashion. Though the gilded glamour’ theme promises to yield one of the greatest red carpets to date, the bar has been set high, and a look back at the Met’s best and boldest outfits represents fashion at its most inspiring. Here, 130 of the most memorable, daring, and over-the-top outfits ever.