You’d imagine it began with a dress, but that is not the case. The Met Gala has existed since 1948 – and what is mainly a fundraising benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which attracts celebrities, young creatives, and industry luminaries, has just recently become as much of an online sensation as an offline event. By now, each time the Met Gala occurs, odd interpretations of costumes, fashion items, and occasionally individuals quickly become viral. The obsession with fashion goals and Who Wore What has been supplanted by a need to compare clothing to something else and determine whether the trend has a lasting effect on Internet culture. In some sense, if your gown has become a meme, you are responsible for it. That is the night’s standout or highlight. However, how did a charity fundraising event become necessary?
Today, dubbed ‘The Met Gala,’ the Costume Institute Benefit began in 1948 as a fifty-dollar-per-ticket midnight meal for guests. It was Eleanor Lambert’s brainchild, who dubbed it the “Party of the Year.” “The event raised cash for The Costume Institute and commemorated the inauguration of the institute’s annual major exhibition, The Met stated in 2018. Since then, the benefit has increased in size, breadth, and profile and continues to be the department’s primary source of revenue for exhibitions, acquisitions, and capital projects. Anna Wintour—artistic director of Condé Nast and editor-in-chief of Vogue and a Met Trustee—took over as co-chair in 1995 and has been in charge of the celebration ever since.
While the Met Gala parties and the glamour that accompanied them were extremely popular in the fashion and art worlds, the general public was not as enamored at the time. The celebrities who paid visits had their gowns examined, but it was regarded the same way a New York Fashion Week or a Paris runway show would be – as just fashion. That began to alter in 2014.
The first viral moment at the Met Gala, when something ‘broke the Internet,’ transcended the event itself. And it was not a gown. It was a grainy film taken from an elevator. Beyonce’s Sister, Solange, assaulted Beyonce’s husband, Jay-Z, in the Met Gala elevator. Even now, some eight years after the occurrence, it is unclear what prompted the fight. The surveillance tapes of the entire altercation, which lasted only about two minutes, gained fame due to the footage that surfaced on the Internet and became the subject of gossip columns, finally making its way to social media. Additionally, those two minutes inspired one of Beyoncé’s most iconic lines to date: “Of course sh** goes down When it’s a billion bucks in an elevator.”
The video footage was shared hundreds of thousands of times, sparking speculation about what occurred, allegations of Jay-Z mistreating Beyonce or cheating on her appearance. While some photographs of Met Gala gowns had made their way to the general Internet and gained popularity for a time before this, it was this clip of Solange arguing with Jay-Z in an elevator that brought the event to the public’s notice. The following year, more viewers tuned in to watch the show – largely anticipating some drama. That was not the case. However, some who watched it discovered certain gowns worthy of sarcastic jokes and memes – and thus began a new trend: watching the show in search of something entertaining, something other than fashion or the cause, but something worthy of viral Internet fame. The remainder is, as they say, meme-stry. Err… err… err… err… err…
Rihanna’s pizza outfit was one of the first memes to establish the trend of dressing up like memes truly. Rihanna served watching Internet sleuths meme-material on a deep-dish plate in her Guo Pei-designed canary-yellow gown. We discovered some of the most popular Rihanna outfit memes from the night, ranging from omelets to pizza to fortune cookies.
Rita Ora wearing a feather duster was arguably the show’s high point that year.
Additionally, a special mention should be made of the original dress that spawned memes – Kim Kardashian’s in 2013. Kim Kardashian’s flowery pattern dress sparked memes about how the print and shape of the outfit resembled a couch. While the dress initiated the tendency of dresses becoming memes, it wasn’t until the Jay-Z Beyonce elevator video went viral that the trend of memes eclipsing actual conventions began. The convention, originally focused on midnight suppers and charity, has grown to become one of the world’s largest publicity events, with thousands of people watching for OOTDs and the memes that result.