In the beginning, it was Diana Vreeland's baby, and only la crème de la crème of the fashion world and New York society were invited.
Under Pat Buckley's reign in the 1980's the crowd was an eclectic mish-mash of old money, new money, the literati, the glitterati, and the media elite. Here we have disco dolly Barbara Walters with her original teeth (1982) and Nancy and Henry Kissenger (1990)
Occasionally a Hollywood star was trotted out and everybody oohed and aaahed and then went back about their business, but celebrity for celebrity's sake was not the point. Cher, Bob Mackie, Raquel Welch, and Andre Weinfeld (1985)
Then & Now: There's more skin today, perhaps, but a bright color and shiny fabric is still the way to get noticed. Claudette Colbert (1981) and Katie Holmes (2008)
When Anna Wintour took over as co-chair in 1995, the celebrity factor was upped and dressing for the ball became a competitive sport. Anna (2008) and Amber Valetta (1999)
Of course, now any chucklehead can plop an egg on her head or wear a pilgrim hat and call it "fashion." Here we have Anna Dello Russo and Janelle Monae (2011)
In 2004, both Hamish Bowles and Ivanna Trump seemingly arrived in their bathrobes. Sometimes the line between "wacky" and "inappropriate" is too fine for some people to grasp.
Big and white is always a risk. It can come off as a wedding gown, and that's just weird. Here we have Karolina Kurkova getting it right with Vikto & Rolf (2005) and Serena Williams (2011) getting it oh-so-wrong.
Black and edgy is always chic. Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Teese (2005) and Mary-Kate Olsen (2008)
Tulle on your skirt? Yes. Tulle on your head? Maybe not. Zac Posen with Doutzen Kroes, 2010; Diana Ross, 2001.
Designer's aren't always the best when it comes to dressing themselves. John Galliano, 2001; Kate Spade 2007.
Except for the Divine DFV, who always looks effortlessly elegant (seen here in 2007 and 2005)
Supermodels get it right. Linda Evangelista in 2004 (love the purse) and Giselle in her leather basket weave mini-dress (2010).
The less said about 2006's "Anglo Mania" theme, the better. It was a NIGHTMARE. SJP, Alexander McQueen, Captain John Galliano, and Charlize Theron.
And finally, we can't have a post about the Costume Exhibit without mentioning the belle of every ball, the extraordinary Andre Leo Talley. God bless him and his nutty couture choir robes.