The First Met Gala In 1948 Was a Night-Time Dinner With Ticket Price Of $50 To Attend

With the annual Met Gala event just a few days ago, where important attendees, fashionistas, and other pop-culture fans stepped out in bespoke outfits, we wonder how the lavish event got started.

Theatre director Irene Lewisohn and stage designer Aline Bernstein established a collection of costumes for theatre designers as a source of inspiration in the 1920s in New York during the Jazz Age. By 1946, the Costume Institute had grown to approximately 8,000 items, which were sourced from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Eleanor Lambert, a fashion publicist in New York, started the annual event two years later. Lambert had already established New York Fashion Week, organised the CFDA, and coined the term “Best Dressed List,” so it was no surprise that she came up with the idea for a fundraising banquet that would become the most important event in the social calendars of Manhattan for generations to follow.

The invitation read “The Party of the Year,” and the event was held as a small midnight gathering with $50 tickets. The first event took place in December 1948 at the Waldorf Astoria. Lambert’s charity fundraisers were place in a variety of locales over the years, including Central Park and the Rainbow Room in the Rockefeller Center.

Today, the Met Gala red carpet is one of the most famous dress-up parties in the world, hosting A-list figures from fashion, culture, sports, and politics, and has been dubbed the Oscars of the fashion industry.

The guest list that we know of now, however, was not quite as long as the initial one, which comprised Manhattan’s social elite. Lambert was effective in garnering interest and sustaining the Costume Institute head above water economically.

The Met Gala has had four chairs throughout its existence, and three other powerful women have served as chair since Lambert’s rule. Diana Vreeland transformed the event into what it is now, expanding the guest list outside Manhattan’s elite scene and having the event inside the museum itself. In the 1990s, Pat Buckley headed the event until it was taken over by Wintour in 1995.

Globalisation, the internet, a preoccupation with celebrity culture, and accessible travel, allowing attendees to fly in, are all aspects that have contributed to the Met Gala’s transformation and growth.

However, even in the last ten years, the event has changed dramatically. In a video interview with Philip Lim, Alexa Chung shed insight on this by recalling her first Met Gala with the designer, which was a closed-door affair with no large 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.”