Why Celebrities Still Get Savaged on the Met Gala Red Carpet

Why the Met Gala worst dressed list is still thriving in 2023.

It was May 5 2020 when supermodel Karlie Kloss posted a video titled: “My Worst Met Gala Look”.

The story? One year and four days prior, Kloss had made every “Worst Dressed” list walking down the 2019 “Camp” themed Met Gala red carpet.   

The model confessed, with an air of Anne Boleyn’s ghost reflecting on the walk to her beheading: “I could tell the reaction literally from the minute I walked onto the red carpet.” For Kloss, appearing on every worst-dressed list was (shock) “not fun.” 

It didn’t look fun from the sidelines. 

Keyboard warriors on Twitter said she looked like a Twix bar, a prom queen, and a “deflated balloon.” 

Mainstream publications weren’t any kinder. InStyle said Kloss seemed “uncommitted to the outrageous theme”, and news.com.au reported her as an “early winner for worst dressed,” while Cosmopolitan called her look “boring” and “high school homecoming”. 

One year later, Kloss herself was philosophical, owning up to not having taken the theme as “seriously” as she could have. Because Met Gala themes are serious business — it’s the only carpet we still get our knives out for. 

Why the Met Gala Is the Last ‘Worst Dressed’ List Fashion Writers Still Publish

Vogue, 1997 "Best and Worst" List
Best and worst lists aren’t what they used to be, Vogue 1997 retrospective. Image Credit: Vogue

In the 90s, it was common to see supermarket rags plastered with “worst dressed” celebrity lists following any red-carpet event. This open savagery is now frowned upon. We all know about bullying; celebrities frequently discuss fame’s impact on their mental health. So, we keep our gleeful fashion sniping to the impermanent realm of Instagram Stories. We focus our energies instead on the more difficult task of describing what we find beautiful.

The exception to this rule is the Met Gala. It’s not just USA Today and the Daily Mail dragging celebrities for their fashion missteps. Last year, “high” culture publication High Snobiety announced its worst dressed list with the headline: “UH OH, TIME TO RANK THE WORST MET GALA 2022 RED CARPET ‘FITS“. Christmas had arrived early for one writer. We don’t know who that writer is, because before hitting publish on the article containing the sentence, “Gilded Glamour? More like it belongs in the trash!”, they removed their byline. That’s because Met Gala criticism is to fashion critics what “The Purge” is for ordinary American citizens in successful horror franchises — intoxicating fun but not something you want to be associated with after the fact.

WWD got down in the muck. Even The Cut, a barometer of woke, has historically delighted in dragging Met looks. As Dorothy Parker wrote, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”

And there’s nothing quite like drawing blood in a public forum.

Are We All Just Horrible?

We still love a worst dressed list.
We’re still out for blood when the Met Gala rolls around. Image Credit: Twitter, news.com.au, High Snobiety

The Met Gala is the only red carpet in the calendar where celebrities aren’t being celebrated for their work. They haven’t appeared in a film, released an album, or toured relentlessly. They are there because they have been deemed valuable, invited and dressed by designers and companies like Yahoo, Spotify and Instagram, who want a slice of their clout.

It’s human nature to rile at another person receiving praise, gowns, and attention heaped on them for doing nothing. Kloss is just one public figure who has been dragged, and looks like Jared Leto’s decapitated Heavenly Bodies costume and Kylie Jenner’s “The Simpsons” memeified wedding dress are all recently panned outfits. 

The most controversial example is Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’ “Tax the Rich” dress. The congresswoman was heavily criticised for attending the Met Gala, despite her sartorial stunt, which right-wing radio talk show host Ben Shapiro referred to as #cosplaytherevolution. Another Twitter user quipped her gown was akin to putting a “stop world hunger” banner on a private yacht. 

Related: 10 Celebrities Who Ignored the Met Gala Theme and Just Looked Hot — A History

So, are self-appointed or in-house fashion critics just bored bullies raring to sledge celebs at the first opportunity? In defence of fashion journalists, the Met Gala is a unique red carpet. 

Is Dragging Met Gala Attendees a Form of Political Protest? (It’s Not)

Kylie Jenner and Alexanddria Ocasio-Cortez have both topped worst dressed lists.
Going bridal and viral Image Credit: Getty

The Met Gala is exorbitantly expensive. A single ticket costs USD $30,000, and a table for 10 costs USD $250-300,000. Each year, the Met Gala costs around USD $3.5 million dollars to run, with profits directed at the Costume Institute. The Met Gala Costume Institute is culturally significant. But, the Met Gala fundraiser is held in a country where according to the Council on Foreign Relations, the top 10 per cent of the population hold 70 per cent of the national wealth.

Guests at the 2018 Met Gala were presented with a menu of Roman cuisine featuring lobsters, saffron radishes, lemon-acacia honey emulsion and “gold flakes”. Of course, it was a meal most — according to a service worker who spoke to Insider — didn’t eat because the guests were seated in loaned gowns and tuxes that cost between $40,000 and $620,000 USD. Meanwhile, 34 million people experience food insecurity annually in the United States.

Related: The “Chanel Girl” and Karl Lagerfeld’s Beauty Legacy

The same year, 80,000 pounds of roses were involved in a single floral display (an 1,814kg papal tiara), with the water footprint of a single-cut rose between 7-13 litres. That means the 1,814 kg rose-adorned papal tiara came with a 560,000-104,000 litre water bill attached. This is on a planet where two billion people live in countries with inadequate water supply. In 2023, it’s estimated 700 million people could be displaced by water scarcity (thanks for the reminder UNICEF), 

What Does the Savagery Actually Achieve?

Jared Leto and Katy Perry preparing to be turned into memes on the Met Gala red carpet.
Katy Perry and Jared Leto preparing to get memed on the Met Gala red carpet. Image Credit: Getty

In this context, the Met Gala seems less like a moment to celebrate fashion, and more like an annual reminder to eat the rich. 

This is made particularly easy by Anna Wintour. The Vogue Editor-in-Chief and chair of the Met Gala this year elected to ignore the winds of public sentiment and celebrate a designer who demonstrated fatphobia, racism and misogyny (as well as great taste!) during his lifetime.

It’s natural to expect attendees to sing for their gold-leafed supper and follow the theme. And it feels good to pour venom on them when they don’t.

So, we’ve established the Met Gala, and the celebrities who attend it invite mockery. But while we feel we have the moral high ground when we attack “folks who got to wear luxury clothes to the fanciest dinner of the year” (quote: Anonymous Journalist at Highsnobiety.com), we’re also not curing any social ills.

Just like AOC’s dress was a redundant form of political protest, dragging Emily Ratajkowski’s confusing look and wondering out loud why Selena Gomez’ foundation was incorrectly matched to her skin tone is an ineffective outlet for climate anxiety and social unrest. It’s a distraction. 

That’s why we write our tweets each year, eat our cake, remove our bylines, and still feel slightly sick.  

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