With the first Monday of May comes fashion's boldest, loudest, and most exclusive night. The Met Gala — which is dedicated to raising money for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute — was first introduced in 1948 (when it was called the Costume Institute Benefit) by fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert, per Vogue.
Since then, fashion industry icons like Anna Wintour and the late Diana Vreeland have helped mold the prestigious event into the pop culture extravaganza it is today.
Each annual Met Gala boasts a theme, some of which have caused a stir — 2023's "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty," for instance, has been criticized thanks to the late German fashion designer's complex legacy, complete with personal opinions deemed fatphobic, misogynistic, and racist. The Met Gala, however, is no stranger to controversy.
The limits of fashion are often pushed on the Met Gala red carpet, as are a few buttons. From Scarlett Johansson to Kim Kardashian, let's take a look at some of the most controversial Met Gala looks in history.
Sarah Jessica Parker at the 2015 Met Gala
Concerning the 2015 Met Gala theme, "China: Through The Looking Glass," one would assume guests honored the work of esteemed Chinese designers (like Guo Pei or Grace Chen). Unfortunately, according to Marie Claire, this wasn't the case for many attendees. Not only was the red carpet cluttered with non-Chinese designs, but it was also a cultural appropriation spectacle. As we know, there's a fine line between respecting/honoring a culture and appropriating one.
Sarah Jessica Parker was attacked far and wide for wearing a flamboyant headpiece designed by Irish milliner Philip Treacy to the event. And the dress? It was designed by SJP herself in collaboration with H&M. No Chinese artistry in sight.
Kendall Jenner at the 2017 Met Gala
The 2017 theme was "Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between," honoring Japanese brand Comme des Garçons and its founder, designer Rei Kawakubo. As put by Entertainment Weekly, the theme might as well have been "Avant-Garde."
Kendall — a #FreeTheNipple supporter — wore a revealing sheer La Perla gown and a thong, which earned her a slew of nasty slut-shaming critiques. Not only that, but harsh critics accused her of copying Rose McGowan's memorable 1998 MTV Video Music Awards look — which saw her bare both her booty and her breasts.
As for what Kendall thought of her 2017 Met Gala look, here's what she told Allure:
"I don’t know. It’s pretty sexual but, yeah, it’s cool. It’s like, it’s very like, I don’t know. I always like something that’s a little controversial so, that’s kind of that."
Scarlett Johansson at the 2018 Met Gala
Scarlett Johansson looks like a goddess in this burgundy-to-blush gown adorned with flower petals. The answer to the inevitable "Who are you wearing?" question is where the controversy lies. To the 2018 Met Gala — which boasted a "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination" theme — ScarJo wore a gown designed by Marchesa. For those unfamiliar, Marchesa is a high-end womenswear brand owned by Georgina Chapman, the then-wife of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Harvey Weinstein has since been found guilty of rape and sexual assault and will likely spend the remainder of his life behind bars. Back in 2018, Weinstein faced numerous sexual abuse and misconduct allegations, which were catalysts for the #MeToo movement. According to Marie Claire, Weinstein was "known to insist actresses wear his wife's label."
Rihanna at the 2018 Met Gala
With a Met Gala theme centered around religion, some celeb outfits had people clutching their pearls in 2018. Rihanna arrived looking like the hottest pope in John Galliano for Maison Margiela, causing heads to turn and brows to furrow in the process.
Studded with pearls and jewels, Bad Gal Riri's Roman Catholic Church–inspired ensemble is sinfully stunning. Hilariously, the Grammy winner told Vogue that it would have been a "sin" to not wear the papal look. (We agree.)
Despite "important" members of the Catholic Church and the Vatican choir attending the event, many deemed Rihanna's look as well as the event itself "sacriligious." One Twitter user even accused the "Love on the Brain" singer of "appropriating religious ritual dressings," calling her look "offensive."
Have a sense of humor!
Cara Delevingne at the 2021 Met Gala
We adore a cheeky feminist statement as much as the next person, but only if credit is given where credit is due. At the 2021 Met Gala — which boasted an “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” theme — Cara Delevingne strutted in wearing a Dior vest that had the phrase "Peg the Patriarchy" plastered across the front. Believe it or not, much of the controversy surrounding the garment has nothing to do with its political statement.
Unfortunately, "pleasure coach" and sex educator Luna Matatas — who famously coined the slogan in 2015 — was not credited for her direct influence. She was understandably upset.
"While I'm giddy that Peg the Patriarchy® made it to the Met Gala, [Cara Delevingne] tried to pull it off as their own. No credit to me, the creator and owner of the trademark," she wrote on Instagram.
"Remember that as a fat, queer, POC I am working twice as hard just to do what I'm already amazing at. ... What's grossest for me is the media interviews — with Cara blatantly owning it as if it wasn't already owned. Sound familiar? *Coughs in colonialism,*" her post continued.
"Peg the Patriarchy is about subversion, not about an anal sex act and not about men. It's a metaphor for subverting the system that requires subservience within a gender binary," she continued, clarifying her term's intentions.
Kim Kardashian at the 2022 Met Gala
Though she only donned the gown for mere minutes before changing into a replica, reality star and businesswoman Kim Kardashian ruffled a few feathers when she wore Marilyn Monroe's iconic "happy birthday, Mr. President" dress to the 2022 Met Gala. Considering the theme was "In America: An Anthology of Fashion," Kim admittedly nailed the prompt, as the blond bombshell and complicated sex symbol was an important figure in Old Hollywood.
Kim opened up to Allure about losing 16 pounds and sticking to a "strict" carbohydrate-free and sugar-free diet to squeeze into Marilyn's 1962 dress. Despite clarifying her weight loss was accomplished under the guidance of a nutritionist and a trainer, many viewed the stunt as disordered eating promotion.
Not only that, but rumors swirled that Kim damaged the historic dress. Ripley's VP of publishing and licensing, Amanda Joiner, quickly shut down the gossip, however, claiming the dress was returned in mint condition.
Still, the dress's designer, the legendary Bob Mackie, called Kim's Met Gala look "a big mistake," as "nobody else should be seen in that dress."