Fashion meta-prom happened, you guys!

The Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute Gala is the magical event when the inner workings of the fashion world and the film world squeeze together tightly enough to make one night of glorious, spangly sausage.

This year a little scandalous to start with, given that the unspoken theme was apparently “Backhanded Compliment Retrospective”:

The spring 2012 exhibition organized by The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. The exhibition, on view from May 10 through August 19, 2012 (preceded on May 7 by The Costume Institute Gala Benefit), explores the striking affinities between these two Italian designers from different eras.

With a sidebar exhibit of shade-throwing:

…Mrs. Prada confirmed that she admires the total curatorial independence of the museum to the extent that they almost did not take into consideration her vision.

[insert sassy/popcorn .gif of choice]

But shade or sun, the show must go on!

As the past has proved, the thing about the Met Gala that sets it apart from other red carpets is that its job is to stun. Other red carpets are easier to parse: at the Golden Globes and the Oscars, you’re supposed to dress to some combination of Glam, Elegant, Sexy, Dramatic, Old Hollywood, and Fresh. The overall effect is, they hope, either Pretty or Gorgeous. Sure, you have your Tilda Swintons and your Cate Blanchetts, but the phalanxes of stylists who gird themselves all year for Red Carpet Season know how that battle is fought, and what weapons to deploy.

The Met Institute Costume Gala, however, is where all those warriors of fashion turn their weapons on each other. But wow, did people take the Impossible part seriously. In a realm of Daring, Fab, Moment, and a bunch of other words that start to lose meaning after too many seasons of Project Runway gathering dust in our collective subconscious, this year was off-kilter. The 2012 trend of Full Baffle is going strong, and we’re going to have to wade through this together.

Let’s start with Michelle Dockery, in Red Carpet Mode.

Michelle Dockery, whose bone structure is highlighted above (and in every other picture of her), has in the past dressed herself, with mixed results. This is a huge step up (she looks as if she walked off the set of the shoot she did with Tom Hiddleston), though it’s more red-carpet than high-fashion. The corset, while a necessary element of interest, looks more like those blinds-sunglasses than ribs or rope coils or armor or a continuous zipper or whatever else it might have been meant to evoke. I dig the gloves, though.

And Laura Carmichael, illustrating Fashion Mode:

That’s a brocade coatdress with what appears to be pants underneath it. Points all around. And I actually love the too-big fit – there’s something very “Oh, this old thing?” about it, without being overtly boudoir. She has a frumpy rep, largely thanks to Edith Crawley Syndrome, but I can see what she was going for here.

And a lot of the essence of the Costume Institute is Going For It. Those who commit often come out better than those who tried half-measures, no matter what the concept is:

Lana Del Rey, who said, “So, maybe a metallic dress with a cape?”

Bianca Brandolini, who said, “A METALLIC DRESS WITH A CAPE.”

In fact, the cry of Metallic Dress was heard across this fashiony land! With mixed results.

Karolina Kurkova, who fearlessly tore the back of her own dress off to make a headband for Maximum Fashion!

Nina Dobrev, in a dress that probably looked amaaaazing going up the stairs.

And Camilla Belle, giving the camera her usual dead-eye, in a lovely dress that sort of exemplifies this year, where there were lots of lovely dresses that weren’t particularly Statements.

In fact, let’s just have lovely-dress division rundown. Nothing is wrong with these dresses, which are all lovely, and worn by actresses who are (or hope to become) red-carpet staples, and are not about to risk looking like fools, on this carpet or any other!

Amber Heard! Lovely cut. The ombre ribbons along the hem save the color, for me.

Amy Adams, looking as per usual! Her stylists have their orders, and I can promise you they are forbidden to suggest ANYTHING that could get her compared to a Muppet WHATSOEVER for at least five years.

Dianna Agron, in a very pretty dress that had me asking, “WHO is that with the monster bow in the back?” (We’ll get there.)

Jessica Biel, in a dress I like a lot more than I like Jessica Biel!

And Caroline Trentini and Jessica Stam, for whom Wearing Lovely Dresses is their entire profession, swoop in for a one-two punch and effortless division win! Cheating? Nope; all’s fair in love and the Met Costume Institute Gala.

However, it’s not as though going for Lovely will automatically work, either.

You might think January Jones’s dress looks a little bit like eyes. But when you see her chest details are lined with red, and look at that seaming down the front, you realize she’s actually, literally wearing a yellow squid-face dress, and that should be so, so much more awesome than this is. The lady beside her totally knows it, too; look at that face.

Dakota Fanning. I wish one of these carpet-stalking rogue stylists had run up to her and pinned her hair into a French roll or something; as it is, this outfit looks like a bridesmaid trying a dress on as a favor to a bride she’s starting to resent.

Amy Poehler, human foreshortening.

Lily Collins, 1972 Bride Barbie.

Jessica Chastain, desperately trying to make fetch happen.

Ginnifer Goodwin, who generally cannot dress herself, in a dress that almost works except for the halfhearted barnacles on top that appear to be strangling her.

Kristin Stewart, who wore this on a dare.

Emma Stone, who shouldn’t have.

Diane Kruger, in a dress that couldn’t be a more lovely color, with an effect that couldn’t be more The Beach Dresses of Ostrich Island.

In a normal year, Diane Kruger would be playing in the Pros division! But this year was all over the map, and she got left behind, amid some gutsy looks both good and ghastly. Shall we?

I don’t know if you know this, but Beyonce, whose job it is to be sexy, recently had a baby, and she wants you to know she is ready to go back to her job, but she didn’t have everyone’s addresses to send the notice to, so she just wore this.

And she was not alone in her physical/career transparency:

Rooney Mara, who looks like she can’t wait until the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo image push is over and she can go back to wearing dresses that cover all her parts at the same time. (I hear you, Mara; this “Welp, there goes my underskirt” trend does not thrill me, either.)

On the other hand, here’s Marion Cotillard, looking as if she couldn’t be happier about her imaginary underskirt! This is still not a trend that thrills me, but the balance of the simplicity on top and the sparkly volume and color on the bottom work better here, balancing the look and making the sheer skirt seem an intentional and integral component of the design.

Elizabeth Banks, wearing a dress in which no component seems to have been intentional whatsoever!

Kirsten Dunst, existing inside an item of clothing I decline to parse.

Florence Welch. Is this a fetching dress? Nope. But it’s her style, amplified, which is the idea of the Costume Institute Gala! Dress code: achieved.

Janelle Monae. Love it. She stands out in a subtle way, which is quite a trick on this particular evening.

Coco Rocha, in the evening’s other pantsuit. And you know, I recoiled from my screen when I saw this, but I saw this, and everyone else saw this, and many people who see only six photos of the whole evening will see this, and that is the point of this outfit in its entirety, so this is not an outfit so much as it is a seasoned vet who came to play hard, and thus how it actually looks doesn’t matter at all. (Which is good news, because it looks awful!)

Something about feathered dresses just makes me imagine the celebrity in question sitting in a Tudor kitchen frantically clawing at ravens and ostriches amid a hail of fluff. That said, if anyone could wear a dress of head-to-toe feathers and make it look effortlessly casual, it would be Cate Blanchett.

Carey Mulligan, looking both glamorous and comfortable in an amazing fish-scale sequin dress that has the distinct advantage of being both a great showpiece and suited to its wearer.

Mary Kate Olsen, who, Costume Institute Gala or not, has to be fucking with us.

And last but not least, the actress who comes out of nowhere every year for this shindig with all guns blazing, Christina Ricci, in The Bow Dress. Is the bow too long and wide for her build? Does that color wash her out? Is that cutout on her ribs really necessary? Does the neckline look ever so slightly like a cupcake wrapper? It matters not. She came here to kick fashion ass and walk through doors sideways, and she’s all out of doors.

The live feed was a beautiful piece of performance art, and gives you a sense of how far this Ouroboros goes, and hopefully is still working if you click on it now. Or, just get in line and start planning for next year; everybody else is!

You can check out even more pictures at FabSugar, from whence many of these pictures came.