The 2021 Met Gala was filled with celebrities making fashion statements, but Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was among the A-listers using fashion to make a political statement.
Ocasio-Cortez’s white fishtail gown, designed by Aurora James of Brother Vellies, has made waves since Monday’s gala due to the bold, red message emblazoned across the back summarizing her longtime policy stance: “Tax The Rich.”
“When Aurora and I were first kind of partnered, we really started having a conversation about what it means to be working-class women of color at the Met, and we said, ‘We can’t just play along, but we need to break the fourth wall and challenge some of the institutions,’” said Ocasio-Cortez in an interview with Vogue at the fete. “While the Met is known for its spectacle, we should have a conversation about it.”
Some observers quickly took to Twitter to criticize what they saw as a hypocritical outfit choice, given the reportedly exorbitant cost of an individual ticket to the Gala. Fellow politicians, including Republicans Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Sen. Ted Cruz, also (not surprisingly) disapproved of the New York Democrat’s dress.
Aoc wearing a “tax the rich” dress at a event where the rich attend is a prime example of performative art— Patoç (@SeigKrieg) September 13, 2021
To all the people claiming AOC got a "free" ticket to the #MetGala -- just because she did not pay for it does not means it is "free." Someone paid 35K for her to attend. Just seems she might have wanted that money used for something other than an elite party ticket.— Vanessa Friedman (@VVFriedman) September 14, 2021
In an Instagram post Monday, Ocasio-Cortez said that when it came to her garb for the event, “the medium is the message.” She added that she was proud to work with James, “a sustainably focused, Black woman immigrant designer,” as well as an “All-BIPOC/women/LGBT+ team,” which consisted of makeup by Cassandra Garcia, hair by Eric Williams, and photos by Jun Lu.
James lent Ocasio-Cortez the dress for the night, the designer said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday, adding that she had not yet calculated the garment’s cost.
Responding to criticism about her attendance at the opulent event, Ocasio-Cortez, a Boston University alumna, also noted in the Instagram post that “NYC elected officials are regularly invited to and attend the Met due to our responsibilities in overseeing our city’s cultural institutions that serve the public.”
Other New York politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Rep. Carolyn Maloney — who wore a dress advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment — were also in attendance.
After the backlash that erupted after the event, Ocasio-Cortez stood firm in a message on her Instagram story Tuesday afternoon, saying that “our culture is deeply disdainful and unsupportive of women.”
“I thought about the criticism I’d get, but honestly I and my body have been so heavily and relentlessly policed from all corners politically since the moment I won my election that it’s kind of become expected and normalized to me,” she wrote. “Ultimately the haters hated and the people who are thoughtful were thoughtful. But we all had a conversation about Taxing the Rich in front of the very people who lobby against it.”
James said in the CNN interview that economic justice was “top of mind” when deciding on a design with the Congresswoman, who is no stranger to using fashion as a statement: At her 2019 swearing in, she donned a white suit, a nod to the suffragette movement.
“When you finally get a seat at the table, you have to decide what the message is that you want to deliver,” said James, who also founded the Fifteen Percent Pledge, an initiative that urges major retailers to dedicate 15 percent of their shelves to Black-owned businesses. “Fashion is often thought of as this really frivolous thing, but ultimately, in my brand, and for a lot of other designers, we use it as a really powerful tool for communication, especially women of color.”
Many on Twitter pointed out the message the dress sent at Met Gala itself, a lavish event where many of the attendees are the very people the Congresswoman is interested in taxing.
The subtext here—that people who take virtuous stances don’t belong at events populated by the elite despite these events’ consumption by AND RELIANCE OF the masses—feels misguided.— pfpicardi (@pfpicardi) September 14, 2021
Wearing a “Tax the Rich” dress in front of a bunch of rich people feels…apt to me. https://t.co/97277SajW7
The AOC dress is merely a Rorschach test. If you already hate her bc you're a conservative, or distrust her bc you're a leftist who feels she hasn't maximized her power to fight for working people, you hated it. If you think she's doing the best she can, you liked it.— Briahna Joy Gray (@briebriejoy) September 14, 2021
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