THE FIRST MET GALA IN 1948 WAS A MIDNIGHT DINNER AND COST $50 TO ATTEND

Posted on by Cameron Tewson

Yesterday, the Met Gala would have taken place if it hadn’t been for Covid-19. It’s an event that its notable attendees, fashion devotees and every other pop-culture admirer looks forward to each year.

This year’s event has been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic and whilst we cannot replicate live events from home, US Vogue have created content that is being released on their YouTube channel to look back on past events, funny moments and provide us with exclusive performances from artists.

“Normally on the first Monday of May I would find myself on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, greeting the guests for the annual Costume Institute Gala. Instead, I find myself at home like most of you.” says US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour as she opens her YouTube address.

Wintour then continues to remind us of what is important during this time, “This is a time of grief and of hardship for millions and the postponement of a party is nothing in comparison.” Wintour’s statement is both powerful and moving as she then continues to discuss the importance of community support during these unprecedented times. This leads into her reminder: that behind all the glamour, the purpose of the Met Gala is to raise money for the Costume Institute, the reason that the Met Gala was born.

In the 1920s during the Jazz Age in New York, theatre director Irene Lewisohn and stage designer Aline Bernstein created a collection of costumes for theatre designers as a source of inspiration. Their collection grew to over 8,000 pieces by 1946 which were sourced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art forming the Costume Institute. 

Two years later, Eleanor Lambert, a fashion publicist in New York created the annual fundraiser. Lambert had already launched New York Fashion Week, founded the CFDA and invented the concept of the “Best Dressed List” so there was no surprise that she came up with the idea of a fundraising gala inviting New York’s elite to what would become the biggest event on Manhattan social calendars for years to come. 

The invitation was titled “The Party of the Year” and took place as an intimate midnight soirée where guests purchased tickets for $50. The first event was held at the Waldorf Astoria in December of 1948. Over the years, Lambert’s philanthropic fundraiser took place at different locations including Central Park and The Rainbow Room in the Rockefeller Centre. 

Image: Met Gala, Circa 1960

Fast forward to today, and the Met Gala red carpet has become one of the most famous dress-up parties in the world hosting A-list names from fashion, culture, sports, politics and has been labelled the Oscars of the fashion world.

However, the guest list that we know of now was not nearly as extensive as the original one that included Manhattan’s deep pocketed social scene. Lambert successfully achieved the goal of generating interest and keeping the Costume Institute financially afloat. 

Throughout its history there have been four chairs of the Met Gala and since Lambert’s reign, three other influential women have been at the helm. Diana Vreeland changed the event to be what we know it to be today, extending the list from Manhattan’s social scene to inviting celebrities and hosting the event at the museum itself. Pat Buckley chaired the event in the ’90s until it was then taken over by Wintour in 1995. 

There are many number of factors that have led to the change and growth of the Met Gala including: globalisation, the internet, a fascination for celebrity culture and accessible travel enabling attendees to fly in from all over the world.

But, even in the past 10 years, the event has seen a huge shift. Alexa Chung in a video conversation with Philip Lim drew light on this by looking back at her first-ever Met Gala that she attended with the designer which was a closed-off event without the huge social media presence. Lim dressed Chung in a Bianca Jagger-inspired tapered tuxedo which, even in 2010 pushed boundaries “Alexa, did you know that it had to go through so many approval processes?” he says, explaining there were rounds of approvals “to put a woman in a suit trouser on the red carpet”.

Chung responds, “It’s so weird and now people turn up in yellow gowns that look like pizzas, or angel wings that get stuck in the stairs, Gaga’s rolling around in her knickers on the stairs… It has really changed.”

We may not know how many outfit changes Gaga had planned for this year, or what food item Rhianna’s outfit may have looked like, but what we do know is that with its long history the Gala will be back and not just for our entertainment but to support the future of the Costume Institute and the history of fashion.

This feature is from Vogue Australia

About Cameron Tewson

Cameron Tewson is the editor and founder of frontrowedit.co.uk. The online media outlet which launched in 2012 was designed to share his thoughts and observations within the fashion & luxury industry. Rising through the ranks. Since leaving school at the tender age of 16, Cameron has consulted for leading global organisations and has been named one of the 7th top influencers to follow as well as a 30 under 30 rising star in the UK. He can be found instagramming at @camerontewson View all posts by Cameron Tewson →