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What to know about the 2022 Met Gala theme, 'Gilded Glamour'

“There is no reason not to pull out all the stops," journalist and fashion historian Amy Fine Collins told TODAY of the Gilded Age-inspired theme.
Rihanna posing at the 2018 Met Gala, themed "Heavenly Bodies."
Rihanna posing at the 2018 Met Gala, themed "Heavenly Bodies."Getty Images

Each year, the outfits at the Met Gala are in conversation with a different theme. In 2018, the theme was "Heavenly Bodies." In 2019, it was "Camp: Notes on Fashion."

As for the 2022 Met Gala? The dress code for this year's event, held on May 2 in New York, is "gilded glamour, white tie." White tie is a classification even more formal than black tie, calling floor-length gowns for women, and a black jacket with tails for men, per Brides.

Formally known as the Costume Institute Benefit, the invitation-only gala — with its approximately $35,000-a-ticket price — raises funds for the museum's fashion department. Each guest on the list, which numbered about 550 in 2019 per the New York Times, is approved by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.

Here's what to expect from this year's theme, including examples and a definition of 'Gilded Glamour.'

The gala's themes coincide with exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Themes for the Met Gala are inspired by exhibitions held in tandem the Met's Costume Exhibition.

Think of this year's gala as a sequel. The 2022 theme, Gilded Glamour, and the 2021 theme, American Independence, are tied to the museum’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” which the Met describes as “a two-part exploration of fashion in the United States."

On May 7, "Part Two: In America: An Anthology of Fashion" will open in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's American Wing, and will be available to view through September 5.

According to the museum's website, the exhibition will feature men and women's clothing from the 18th century to the present.

The work of eight film directors — Janicza Bravo, Sofia Coppola, Julie Dash, Tom Ford, Regina King (a co-chair for the gala), Martin Scorsese, Autumn de Wilde and Chloé Zhao — will be incorporated into the exhibition, per Variety. Scorsese directed the 1993 movie "The Age of Innocence," an Edith Wharton adaptation set during the Gilded Age.

'Gilded Glamour' is a reference to the Gilded Age

According to Vogue, the costumes are meant to hearken back to New York's Gilded Age, a transformative era in American history spanning from 1870 to 1890.

During this time, which fell between the Civil War and the turn of the century, fortunes were made thanks to rapidly expanding infrastructure. Billionaires of the time included John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Henry Clay Frick, and John Jacob Astor.

Fashion statements were made, too. In 1883, Alva Vanderbilt hosted a costume ball at her new mansion with the intention of formalizing her astronomically wealthy, but "nouveau riche," family into the upper ranks of New York society, then dominated by old-money families like the Astors.

The some 1,200 socialites in attendance could take a photo of themselves wearing outfits, which took months to put together, per the Museum of the City of New York. As with the Met Gala, dresses were vehicles for conversation.

Kasia Walicka-Maimone, costume designer for the HBO show “The Gilded Age,” called the era “a very new and exciting period in fashion” due to new technological progressions in an interview with Variety.

Fashion historian and curator Kate Strasdin characterized the era's clothing to CNN as "very embellished, very exaggerated, (and) very structured."

Gilded Age fashion on display in the HBO show "The Gilded Age."
Gilded Age fashion on display in the HBO show "The Gilded Age."HBO

Gilded Age clothing and hats were marked by the inclusion of bird feathers (Blake Lively is known to incorporate feather designs in her Met Gala wear, so look out for her dress this year in particular). The Audobon Society was founded in 1895 to protect birds against the mass slaughter perpetuated by the fashion industry.

Another common design feature in Gilded Age fashion was corsets, which are having a comeback: They were all over award shows in 2022, like on Olivia Rodrigo's Grammys dress. Also expect to see bustles, lace, satin, and ruffles.

The Gilded Age's prominence in culture may not be a coincidence

The Met Gala follows the Julian Fellowes’ HBO period piece “The Gilded Age,” which wrapped its first season in March. Fellowes based the ball in the finale off Vanderbilt’s still-famous event.

For Amy Fine Collins, fashion historian, journalist, and editor-at-large of Airmail, the current fascination with this era is "not a coincidence."

“This idea of enormous, almost fabulous, unimaginable wealth was fantasy and reality at that time is as it is now,” Fine Collins told TODAY. "The quantity, the scale of wealth that exists now is definitely parallel to what it was back then."

The wealth gap between the emerging class of entrepreneurs and industrialists and the rest of Americans was striking in the Gilded Age. By 1890, the wealthiest 1 percent of American families controlled 51 percent of property; the lower 44 percent controlled just 1.2 percent.

A Dec. 2021 report from the World Inequality Lab likening the wealth gap in 2020 to that of the Gilded Age's: The top 1 percent of Americans share nearly 35 percent of the country's wealth.

Fine Collins predicted that, in addition to Gilded Age fashion, the looks on the Met Gala red carpet will play with the idea of opulence.

"There definitely is no reason not to pull out all the stops. The theme is literally gilded — I think you'll be seeing a lot of the color gold," Fine Collins said.