The Debt Gala: This pajama party alternative to the Met Gala seeks to erase medical debt

Left: Two young women smile in pajamas in front of a Debt Gala photo op. Right: Two audience members laugh during the Debt Gala variety show

It’s no secret that the Met Gala is a cultural mainstay for the celebrity elite — and those who love to ogle them. How many of us have retweeted a photo of Jared Leto dressed as a cat, or made our own memes re: Jason Derulo falling down the museum’s stairs?

But it’s that air of exclusivity that also makes the annual costume ball hard to take seriously. 

In fact, over the years, the event has been the subject of calls for increased diversity and inclusion — including the need to make the event more wheelchair accessible.

But for a group of organizers in Brooklyn, the task is not to make the Met Gala more accessible to the average person — but to make their own gala entirely.

Enter: The Debt Gala, a comedy-fashion fundraiser that takes place the night before the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s big night.

As an event at Brooklyn’s Bell House concert venue, the DIY alternative to the Met doesn’t raise millions for the costume department of the city’s most-visited museum. 

Instead, it seeks to raise awareness about medical debt and health care inequality, with proceeds from ticket sales going to organizations that relieve debt for people across the country.

A Debt Gala attendee wears a dress made out of a bed sheet
A Debt Gala attendee wears a dress made from a bed sheet and corset. Photo courtesy of The Debt Gala/Instagram

This year’s tickets were $35 (a stark contrast to the $75,000 going rate of a Met Gala ticket), with proceeds going to the Debt Collective, and Dollar For

The Debt Gala first debuted last May and donated funds to RIP Medical Debt — though it was mostly rained out by historic flooding in Brooklyn.

But last night, organizers and attendees were out in full force, dressing for the theme “Sleeping Baddies: Slumber Party,” which was a parody of the Met Gala’s theme, “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion.”

Attendees donned their evening best, showing up to the Bell House in bathrobes, PJs, slippers, and more. 

Allison Gould, a healthcare professional, wearing a dress made from teddy bears, was proud to be among the crowd.

A woman wers a dress made out of teddy bears
Allison Gould in her handmade teddy bear dress. Photo courtesy of The Debt Gala/Instagram

“No, I did not get invited to the Met Gala, but to me this is the bigger event,” Gould told the New York Times. “As an independent physical therapist, I’m a fan of the message here, and health care access is a very important topic to me.”

In fact, it’s a very important topic to a lot of people. With an estimated 100 million Americans burdened with medical debt, the Debt Gala became an easy creation for comedians Molly Gaebe, Amanda Corday, and Tom Costello.

“The Met Gala is a fun cultural touchstone to be distracted by, but at the root of it, it is disconnected from the rest of the world,” Gaebe told the New York Times. 

“It doesn’t symbolize wanting to better the world in any way. Social justice is at the heart of the Debt Gala.”

Last night’s event included a variety show hosted by duo Zach Teague and Drew Lausch, a display by fiber artist Jo Luttazi that aimed to critique the health care system, drag performances by Chola Spears and Issa Dragon, and the musical stylings of the L Train Brass Band.

While funds have yet to be tallied from this year’s event, in 2023, the Debt Gala raised over $15,000, which alleviated $1,995,300.85 in medical debt for 1,082 families.

“The second annual Debt Gala is all about unleashing the individuality and ingenuity of New Yorkers for a common cause,” Gaebe said in a statement earlier this Spring. 

“We’re thrilled to see… guests turn nightgowns into ballgowns and put their pajamas on parade – all in the name of debt relief.”

Header image courtesy of The Debt Gala

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