Frances McDormand attends the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum.

The Campiest Looks of Met Galas Past

In the lead up to the 2019 Met Gala's “Camp: Notes on Fashion," we remember looks that would be more than welcome at this year's red carpet.

by Evan Ross Katz
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Apr 24 2019, 12:18pm

Frances McDormand attends the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum.

At the 2019 Met Gala, fast approaching on May 6th, the theme is camp. In line with 2018's "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination" or 2013's "Punk: Chaos to Couture," a theme like this leaves plenty of runway space for interpretation yet lays out carefully placed guard rails in terms of adhering to specificity of the theme.

Yet looking back on it, camp—"the love of the exaggerated, the "off," of things-being-what-they-are-not" as defined by Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay, "Notes on 'Camp'"—has been part of the Met Gala's DNA since its inception in 1948. In fact, some of its most memorable outfits over the years are less the impeccably tailored and more favoring the obscure or over the top, often camp-y, camp adjacent, or, in some cases (like Frances McDormand in 2018) downright camp du jour.

Below, we look back at 10 of our favorite camp looks from Met Gala's past.

Hamish Bowles in Laure Welfling and Katherine Hamnett, 2004's 'Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century'

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Hamish Bowles attends the 'Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century' Costume Institute benefit gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art April 26, 2004.

Perhaps no figure has more effectively embodied this year's theme as repeatedly as Vogue's own Hamish Bowles, here seen in a caftan from Laure Welfling in Tangier. (Bowles notes that it was made using a reproduction of an 18th century toile de jouy by Moroccan artisans and that the waistcoat is from Katherine Hamnett, a vintage one of mine that he bought new in the mid 80s and "of course based on an 18th century original.")

Whether it be in 2007, 2008, 2011, 2016, or his most recent feathered Valentino in 2018, Bowles's aesthetic extravagance calls to mind a particular passage from Sontag's essay: "Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation—not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy."

Amber Valletta in Maggie Norris Couture and John Galliano, 2004's 'Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century'

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Amber Valletta attends the 'Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century' Costume Institute benefit gala on April 26, 2004 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Valletta gets it. For the Dangerous Liaisons-themed 2004 affair the model/actress opted for a Maggie Norris Couture corset and John Galliano skirt. She called the look her most complicated ever, telling Fashionista "it wasn't that it took us that long, it's just that the skirt was pretty heavy, and it just took a little bit more research and thought of how to get that right."

Janelle Monae in Chanel, 2011's 'Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty'

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Janelle Monae attends the 'Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty' Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2011.

Wearing her go-to, head-to-toe Chanel, Monae did menswear with a feminine twist, with a lace-adorned top hat and high-heels. The artifice of menswear vs. womenswear is itself camp, and thus the fusion of the two only serves to amplify this.

Anna Dello Russo in Alexander McQueen, 2011's 'Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty'

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Anna Dello Russo of Vogue Japan attends the 'Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty' Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2011.

A McQueen suit paired with an egg headpiece? That's camp!

Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka in Thom Browne, 2014's 'Charles James: Beyond Fashion'

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Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka attend the 'Charles James: Beyond Fashion' Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 5, 2014.

Thom Browne crop top tuxes with tails? Yes please. "It takes a LOT of effort to look like the most pretentious assholes at the Met Gala," Tom & Lorenzo wrote at the time.

Sarah Jessica Parker in H&M and Philip Treacy, 2015's 'China: Through The Looking Glass'

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Sarah Jessica Parker attends the 'China: Through The Looking Glass' Costume Institute Benefit Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 4, 2015.

Wearing a dress she designed in collaboration with H&M, Carrie Bradshaw doppleganger SJP stepped out with a custom Philip Treacy headpiece that looked like she was being set on fire... but make it fashion.

Diane Von Furstenberg in DVF, 2016's 'Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology'

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Diane von Furstenberg attends the 'Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology' Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2016.

DVF with a head full of butterflies? Why not! "Last selfie before Tequila!," she iconically captioned a mirror selfie in the lead-up to the big night.

Solange in Thom Browne, 2017's 'Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art Of The In-Between'

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Solange attends the 'Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art Of The In-Between' Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1, 2017.

A couture puffer jacket with a cascading train paired with ice skater heels, all courtesy of Thom Browne? It sounds...risky. In theory: scoff-inducing. On Solange: perfection.

Frances McDormand in Valentino Couture, 2018's 'Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination'

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Frances McDormand attends the 'Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination' Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018.

Setting a bar so high, we can barely hope of clearing was Academy Award-winner Frances McDormand at the 2018 Met Gala wearing Valentino Couture. The video of her dancing with her date, Pierpaolo Piccoli, is what dreams are made of.