The most daring, electrifying, queer Met Gala looks of all time

The Met Gala is the night where the rich, famous and beautiful get to break out their dress-up boxes and serve us capital-F fashion.

A fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, traditionally the Met Gala takes place on the first Monday in May – last year’s event was delayed to September, the year before’s shelved entirely due to the pandemic.

Each year, there is a them. For 2022, it’s “Gilded Glamour”; previous years have celebrated camp, punk, religion and Americana. And it’s this theme that, many agree, is key to nailing the red carpet – it’s better to die a hero than live a coward.

Naturally, in the history of the most successful Met Gala looks, some of the finest have come from within the LGBT+ community. From queer heroes celebrating their history to LGBT+ designers offering note-perfect interpretations of the theme, here are some of the best.

Lena Waithe in Carolina Herrera, 2018

Lena Waithe attends the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Dia Dipasupil/WireImage)

In 2018, Lena Waithe responded to the Met Gala theme of “Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” with a billowing rainbow cape by designer Wes Gordon of Carolina Herrera.

“I felt like a gay goddess,” she said, per Vogue. “When I saw the cape in person, I got emotional, not just because it was so stunning, but I knew we would be making a statement.”

Lena Waithe in Pyer Moss, 2019

Lena Waithe and Kerby Jean-Raymond attend The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Theo Wargo/WireImage)

In 2019, Waithe attended the Met Gala with Kerby Jean Raymond of Pyer Moss, who designed both their show-stopping outfits. Not only did her pinstripe suit have “Black Drag Queens Invented Camp” emblazoned across the back, the stripes themselves were made up of lyrics from two LGBT+ anthems: Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”.

Alexander McQueen and Sarah Jessica Parker in Alexander McQueen, 2006

Sarah Jessica Parker with designer Alexander McQueen attend the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala: Anglomania at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

The late designer dressed himself and the Sex and the City star in matching tartans for 2006’s “AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion”. After McQueen passed away, the Met dedicated its 2011 exhibition and gala to him, with the theme “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”.

Lady Gaga in a Brandon Maxwell four-in-one, 2019

The theme for the 2019 Met Gala was “Camp: Notes on Fashion” – and if anybody knows camp, it’s Lady Gaga. She arrived in a billowing pink gown with full, 25-foot train, which gave way to a series of reveals.

First, a corseted black dress with opera gloves and matching umbrella. Then, hot pink again, with oversized sunglasses and a brick mobile phone, before finally, bejewelled underwear. Performance art at its finest.

Lil Nas X in Versace, 2021

Lil Nas X arrives for the 2021 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Angela Weiss/Getty)

OK, so after Lady Gaga’s four-in-one, Lil Nas X’s trio of looks felt a little derivative. But considering the vast majority of men turn up at the Met Gala in sombre black suits, paying no attention to the theme, we can live with derivative.

The star arrived for his first Met Gala wearing an ornate cape, which he removed to reveal a golden suit of armour. But that wasn’t enough – he shed his metal skin to reveal one final look, a bejewelled bodysuit.

Cardi B in Thom Browne, 2019

Cardi B attends The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty)

Another star who understood the camp assignment, Cardi B wore a custom Thom Browne grown that took 3,000 hours and 35 people to create. It was loud, it was ostentatious, it delivered – basically, it was perfect for Cardi.

Cher in Bob Mackie, 1974

Cher, fashion designer Bob Mackie and Cher’s friend Paulette Betts attend The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Insitute Gala Exhibition “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design” on November 20, 1974. (Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty)

Cher attended the 1974 Met Gala with designer Bob Mackie, who designed her sheer, beaded, feathered “naked dress”. It had such an impact, that she’d be invited to wear it again on the cover of Time Magazine.

Almost five decades on, it continues to be referenced on red carpets, catwalks and even subsequent Met Galas.

Cara Delevingne in Chanel, 2017

Cara Delevingne attends “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art Of The In-Between” Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Karwai Tang/WireImage)

Cara Delevingne debuted a shaved head, spray-painted silver, at the 2017 Met Gala, which honoured Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo.

Kim Kardashian in Mugler, 2019

Kim Kardashian West attends The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Neilson Barnard/Getty)

Manfred Thierry Mugler was coaxed out of retirement in 2019 to wet-look dress literally dripping in jewels for Kim Kardashian. Exaggerated and artificial – which, to Susan Sontag, was the “essence of camp” – it was a brief but rare reminder of the genius of Mugler, one of fashion’s most unapologetically queer talents. He died in January 2022.


Rihanna attends the “China: Through The Looking Glass” Costume Institute Benefit Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Mike Coppola/Getty)

Yes, we’re celebrating queer celebrities and designers. But it’s impossible to discuss the Met Gala without ally, icon, mogul and star, Rihanna.

Since 2015, when she wore a yellow cape dress by the Chinese designer Guo Pei in response to the theme: “China: Through the Looking Glass”, Rihanna has always understood the assignment.

There was 2017, when she was one of the few to wear Comme des Garçons for the Comme des Garçons theme. In 2019, she nailed the “Heavenly Bodies” brief by coming dressed as a Margiela pope, complete with bedazzled mitre. Even her 2021 look, an all-black Balenciaga creation, was a spot-on response to the American theme, as Rihanna explained: “I’m an immigrant and that’s my take on American fashion.”