The Met Ball Is Dead. Long Live The Met Ball!

by BILLY GRAY · May 6, 2010

Anna Wintour 2010 Met BallProminent Times fashion critic and social chronicler Guy Trebay weighs in on New York's preeminent social event in today's Styles section. His conclusion: the Costume Institute gala (aka Met ball) ain't what it used to be. And may be better for it. -

Trebay points out the total transformation of the Met Ball from Old Money cocktail party to celebrity red carpet extravaganza:

"Once upon a time the Costume Institute ball was another kind of party, a gathering of New York’s birthright elite. Having grown up together, and traveled along a familiar circuit of approved schools and drowsy summer places, the Old Money people actually did know each other..."

And now:

"...famous folks thunder — or clatter, anyway — into town on their Louboutin stilettos, strike practiced poses in borrowed finery, sip Champagne and then sit for a dinner no one has any intention of eating. They give each other practiced two-cheek kisses — or try to when it comes to [Anna] Wintour, who could give Krav Maga practitioners a lesson in stiff arm tactics when it comes to deflecting a close approach."

Despite Wintour's rumored reluctance to replace nitwit fashion models with nitwit movie and, shudder, television stars, on the cover of Vogue, she did transform the Met gala into the Oscars-on-the-Hudson. In the process, she probably saved a famed party that might "might well have dimmed had...Wintour never brought her own kind of carnival to town."

The result: the hoedown is less exclusive (hello, Lindsay Vonn!), less refined (Trebay describes Mary J. Blige looking "as elegant as a person can while chewing gum") and more quotidian (Zoe Saldana admitted to doing her own dishes and taking out the trash).

On the other hand, it's more fun. Mick Jagger was there. Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady appeared "phenomenally beautiful." Whoopi Goldberg looked "like a Mormon prophet." Everyone except Tom Ford was drinking.

To a degree the changes at the Met ball mirror those at the Styles section. Sure, party photo captions still feature names plucked from the Social Register. And those back page wedding announcements with a citywide cult following include the odd Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and other blue bloods who, as Trebay puts it:

"Hold the quaint-seeming view that birth, marriage and death were the only valid reasons to find one’s name in print."

But those announcements have become more of a meritocracy, allowing couples whose last name ends in a vowel, brides who don't take their husband's name at all, sodomites and, gasp, people who had to settle for UPenn to join the awkward photo club.

Basically, as the traditional WASP elite has vanished like the endless bottles of gin they consumed, Styles mentions the group mostly in the context of its monthly obituaries (an appropriate time to be mentioned, after all).

Meanwhile, the gum-chewers and quarterbacks and View co-hosts who have taken the aristocracy's place at the Met gala make its association with costumes that much clearer.