(Red Carpet)

These Legendary Met Gala Beauty Moments Take The Costumes To The Next Level

Princess Diana, Lady Gaga, Iman, and beyond.

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Lady Gaga Met Gala 2019

The Met Gala is like Super Bowl Sunday meets the world’s most major award show for the fashion-focused set. Since commencing in 1948 (though you’d be hard-pressed to find anything from that era resembling the Met Gala of today), the industry’s biggest names and most charitable patrons make their annual pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to take in, celebrate, and raise money for the museum’s newest Costume Institute exhibit. In the past eight years or so, though, the event has morphed into arguably the biggest fashion event of the year — and the best Met Gala beauty looks also happen to be some of the greatest hair, makeup, and nail moments of all time.

You can track the shift easily by sifting through the well-kept photo archives: around 2012 or 2013, A-list Met Gala attendees began turning up in what are essentially designer costumes of their own, over-the-top and painstakingly planned created with teams of creative directors and stylists. Prior to that, whatever theme was on for the year was acknowledged much more subtly — if at all. As a result, a trip back through the Met Galas of yesteryear is always full of both decade-defining beauty, classically pretty looks, and the show-stopping masterpieces everyone’s accustomed to today. To celebrate all three genres — and to get ready for the upcoming 2024 fundraiser — take a look back at some of the best and most iconic Met Gala beauty moments of all time.

Raquel Welch, 1982

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As one of Hollywood’s original 1960s-era bombshells, actress Welch was still serving up high-value glam well into the ‘80s — and today, too, in fact. At the 1982 Met Gala, Welch turned up looking like the decade personified in voluminous featured curls, frosty berry lipstick, and a thick pearl choker perched just above her (what else?) sequined snakeskin gown.

Cher, 1985

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Take time to consider the greatest looks of all time (both fashion and beauty) from any annual award show, event, or performance, and there’s about a 99 percent chance Cher makes the cut. For her appearance at the Gala in 1985, with designer and friend Bob Mackie in tow, the legendary singer’s makeup was delightfully ‘80s — the blue shadow and frosty rose-pink lipstick in particular.

Christy Turlington, 1992

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One of several classic supermodels to make the list, Turlington’s 1992 take on Audrey Hepburn’s legendary Breakfast At Tiffany’s look managed to look more wholly original than like an homage — that’s just the power of Turlington and her megawatt smile.

Princess Diana, 1996

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It was the late Princess Diana’s one and only Met Gala appearance, but — surprisingly — she made quite the splash. Her signature sapphire color showed up in both her slip gown and decadent jewels while her famous blonde coiff and colorful makeup are both classic Diana calling cards and the perfect encapsulation of mid-’90s beauty aesthetics.

Liv Tyler, 1998

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Tyler is one of the great unsung beauty icons of the ‘90s, seamlessly transitioning through experimental hairstyles with an ease only those with rockstar DNA can nail. At the 1998 Met Gala, her pageboy hairstyle — complete with artfully choppy, uneven bangs — call to mind the daring short haircuts of Linda Evangelista.

Iman, 2003

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Everything about Iman’s appearance at the 2003 ball (on the arm of her beloved husband, the late David Bowie) embodies the type of glamour for which the supermodel is famous: pure, unadulterated elegance. Her ‘20s-style finger waves call to mind silver screen starlets of yesteryear, underscored by her skinny brows. Meanwhile, the warm brown lipstick and nude smoky eye are totally reflective of the early aughts.

Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen, 2005

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The Olsen twins haven’t made too many Met Gala appearances over the years, but their attendance at the 2005 fundraiser is still talked about today. Just months before establishing The Row, the famous sisters showed up at the museum in matching hairstyles, but very different colors — Ashley in a buttery blonde and Mary-Kate in a warm, highlighted shade of brunette.

Janet Jackson, 2008

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The world owes a lot to Jackson in general, and a fine place to start would be her undeniably influential beauty moments. For the 2008 Met Gala, the “Together Again” singer opted for a sleek, straightened version of her go-to ponytail paired with peachy-brown lips, a bronzed cat eye, and a warm wash of blush across her legendary cheekbones. It’s red carpet beauty at its very best: refined, elegant, and impossibly glamorous without feeling too out-of-touch at all.

Naomi Campbell, 2010

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Campbell’s stunned at so many Met Galas over the years that it’s nearly impossible to pick her greatest appearance — but her half-up hairstyle and glossy berry-tinted lips from 2010 are too good to not include. Campbell’s signature bangs are artfully mussed, her curls are ultra-shiny, and her warm, dewy makeup surely launched a thousand subsequent lip gloss sales.

Lana Del Rey, 2012

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In 2012, Del Rey had just become a full-fledged star with the release of the Born To Die EP. She leaned into the darker elements of her persona with a deeper hair color, oxblood lips and long, matching nails. It’s all a cool complement to the fairytale-like cape she draped around her Altuzarra gown.

Madonna, 2013

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Madonna’s famously rebellious spirit and penchant for all things costume created a perfect storm at the 2013 punk-themed Met Gala. For the fundraiser, Madge tailored a classic Cleopatra bob to feature edgy micro-bangs, all framing the brightest shade of siren-red lipstick.

Beyonce, 2014

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A lip-first makeup look from Beyoncé is always cause for fanfare, but her deep oxblood stain at the 2014 event looks like it was made just for her. With a super-sleek side part and a gown-matching fishnet veil to add even more intrigue and drama, it’s at once simple and utterly statement-making. The look is only rivaled by Bey’s mile-long ponytail the following year, but this standout lip color and the star’s utterly serene energy make this one win by a hair’s breadth.

Taylor Swift, 2014

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Many insiders speculate that 2024 could be the year Swift finally returns to the Gala, making it a perfect time to look back at her Met moments from years past. While her 2014 look wasn’t necessarily her buzziest (that honor is reserved for her controversial yet undeniably iconic “Bleachella” phase), the classic Old Hollywood-style hair and makeup she paired with her petal-pink Oscar de la Renta gown serve as something of Swift’s beauty thesis statement, which holds even to this day.

Lupita Nyong’o, 2016

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The ever-elegant Lupita Nyong’o has dominated every Met Gala she’s ever attended with her ethereal glow, shy smile, and willingness to experiment with hair, makeup, and couture. For the 2016 Met Gala, Nyong’o opted for a glimmering green gown, softly shimmering makeup, and a sky-high, architectural beehive straight out of 3016.

Rihanna, 2017

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A trawl back through the archives makes it explicitly clear: Rihanna has never — not once — missed on the Met Gala carpet. Her costumes, always perfectly on-theme without looking too on the nose, are rivaled only by the corresponding beauty looks she’s served up. While there are many iconic Rihanna Met Gala beauty moments (do yourself a favor and look at this shot of her long red braid back in 2011), there’s one clear winner: her all-over blush moment with an architectural top knot from 2014’s ball showcasing the work of Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo.

Céline Dion, 2017

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If the best Met Gala looks are hinged on artful outfits, then so are the top hairstyles. Dion’s updo, a combination of ribbon-style curls, spike, and intricate loops — all hyper-glossy thanks to an unreal amount of product — were a standout of the 2017 fundraiser and still oft-referenced today. Believe it or not, this was actually Dion’s Met debut — who gets it this right the very first time around?

Kerry Washington, 2018

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Fact: Washington is one of very few modern celebrities who capable of walking the very fine line between playing homage to a theme and letting the theme wear her, so to speak. Always so elegant, her best Met Gala look ever might be 2018’s Catholicism-inspired event — her glossy, brushed-out Afro is not only voluminous and regal, but the curls are a perfect backdrop for her shimmery, celestial hair accessory.

Zendaya, 2018

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Considering the downright indelible mark she’s already left on modern fashion, it’s still mind-blowing to remember Zendaya is still under 30. Her appearance at the Met’s Heavenly Bodies-themed gala, built around Catholic iconography, cemented her status as an icon when she turned up as Joan of Arc herself with a historically accurate red wig and glistening chainmail.

Kim Kardashian, 2019

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It’s wild to think that Kardashian’s appearance on the Met Gala red carpet was once anything other than de rigueur. Any lingering critics in 2019 were immediately silenced, though, when Kardashian turned up in a hyperreal, totally post-modern ensemble perfect for the camp theme: a Thierry Mugler dress designed to look dripping wet with hundreds of well-placed crystals, cinched impossible tight on purpose. To match, Kardashian’s hair was styled into a wet-looking wave, officially kicking off the wet look trend still seen at award shows and at events today.

Lady Gaga, 2019

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She was a celebrity co-chair for the most recent Met Gala, but even if she weren’t — the theme, Camp: Notes On Fashion, was made for Lady Gaga. It’s no surprise then that the multitalented star turned up in a very theme-appropriate series of costume changes complete with a bow-adorned platinum bob (a tiny homage to her career’s early years) and eyelashes so long and sharp, they should be registered as weapons. Now that’s Camp!

Elle Fanning, 2019

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Put Malibu Barbie, I Dream of Genie, and a 2005-era Juicy Couture charm bracelet in the world’s chicest blender (it’d be a Vitamix, right?) and the result would be Fanning’s celebrated look for the Camp-themed Met Gala and one seriously glorious set of nails. Each peach-pink nail is host to a tiny, colorful nail charm depicting things like fries, bagels, and toothpaste. Crucially, Fanning’s thumbs are left dangle-free — the girl’s gotta text, you know.

Ciara, 2021

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The ponytail! The smoky eye! The delicate glossy lip! There is so much to love about Ciara’s latest Met Gala look — not the least of which is how perfectly her Seahawks-themed ensemble nodded to both that year’s “In America” concept and her enviable marriage to Russell Wilson. Her voluminous, flowing ponytail cascades just past her hips, while her part is sleek and straight, allowing a few gently-curled tendrils to skim her cut cheekbones. As for that jaw-dropping makeup, zoom in to see the hints of deep green folded into the eyeshadow — it’s pure perfection.

Gemma Chan, 2021

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Gemma Chan’s intricate crisscrossed braids, circling her sophisticated bun in a striking silhouette, were undoubtedly a highlight of the 2021 Met Gala. Chan’s a star you can always count on for hair and makeup moments that walk the line between classic sophistication, homages to tradition, and ultra-modern trends — this look is the confluence of all of them, to make one of her all-time greatest red carpet moments.

Olivia Rodrigo, 2022

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For her very first Met Gala — the perfect endcap to her record-shattering debut album cycle — Rodrigo played both into the event’s yearly theme and her own carefully-cultivated aesthetic. Shades of purple and butterfly motifs were both major pieces of her Sour era. Incorporated here to fit the Gilded Age theme as hair clips designed as part of a custom Jennifer Behr x Betsey Johnson collaboration, they perch above her long, thick extensions and bounce in the breeze.

Billie Eilish, 2022

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Eilish always likes to get experimental, but her 2022 Met look is refreshingly literal. Fitting right in with the year’s Regency theme, she paired an upcycled Gucci corset with a sweeping updo, a hairstyle straight out of a Sargent painting. She did add a bit of a modern twist, though, by accenting her inky black bun with a pair of sweeping curtain bangs.

Cardi B, 2023

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In a fun tribute to Karl Lagerfeld and her own personal style, Cardi B leaned into her love of wigs with a big, teased headband moment — all in a snowy shade of gray. With her suit-style gown, it’s a perfect homage to the legendary designer without letting her distinct aesthetic fall by the wayside.

Stephanie Hsu, 2023

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Hsu played around with a punk-inspired take on 2023’s Karl Lagerfeld theme, matching her black vinyl lipstick to her shimmery, sequin-soaked. There’s so much to love about this look, including the big, winged liner and gray-black-white color scheme, but the coolest element might be the glossy pompadour hairstyle — it’s straight out of Lagerfeld’s atelier.

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