Fashion and Politics at The Met

by The Cowl Editor on September 23, 2021

Arts & Entertainment

Fashion and Politics at The Met 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich” Dress Draws Controversy

Claudia Fennell ’24

Sept. 13 marked the date of this year’s long-awaited Met Gala, the annual fundraiser held by the Metropolitan Museum of the Art’s Costume Institute. Often referred to as the “Oscars of fashion,” celebrities from Kendall Jenner and Kim Kardashian to Shawn Mendes and Hailey Bieber dressed to showcase the 2021 theme: “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.” 

The Gala attendee whose outfit is getting the most press, however, is not a Hollywood star, but rather United States Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez, often referred to as A.O.C, has served in the Democratic party as a U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th Congressional District since 2019. This was her first Met Gala appearance. She was invited in 2019 after being inaugurated into Congress but declined the invitation, and the event was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A.O.C. has been in the headlines since she beat the previous U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th Congressional District, Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent, in the 2018 election. Ocasio-Cortez was only 29 years old at the time of her election, making her the youngest woman to ever serve in the United States Congress. 

Her choice of dress for the Met Gala came in response to a plan that House Democrats unveiled which aims to raise the corporate tax rate to 26.5 percent. A.O.C. has been an advocate for solving wealth inequality in America, working hard against House Republicans to make the wealthy pay a higher percentage of taxes. She is a campaigner for climate reform, Medicare for all, and free public college, policies that have all been met with hostility from her House Republican opponents. 

Aurora James, a Brooklyn-based fashion designer and founder of the Brother Vellies label, designed Ocasio-Cortez’s dress. On Instagram, A.O.C. posted that she was proud to work with James, a Black, female immigrant who started out her business selling clothes at a flea market. 

James designed a floor-length, off-the-shoulder white gown with the phrase “Tax the Rich” sewed upon the back in large red lettering. In an Instagram post explaining her dress choice, A.O.C. said, “The time is now for child care, health care, and climate action for all. Tax the Rich.” The representative is now facing intense backlash from the media and some of her fellow politicians for her choice of dress. 

Met Gala tickets cost $35,000 per person and a table costs over $200,000. Critics are calling A.O.C. a hypocrite for attending an event that costs tens of thousands of dollars while simultaneously wearing clothing with a message that criticizes the wealthy. Ocasio-Cortez intended to bring attention to the important bill that House Democrats unveiled, but figures on both sides of the aisle have condemned her statement.

Right-wing commentators used the spectacle as yet another reason to critique her. Donald Trump, Jr. took to Twitter to call A.O.C. a fraud for promoting the taxation of the rich “while she’s hanging out with a bunch of wealthy left-wing elites.” 

Even her left-wing supporters are expressing disapproval of the dress. When speaking to the New York Times, socialist writer Danny Haiphong remarked, “A.O.C. and the Squad are not leveraging their enormous base of support to demand the very thing she put on her dress.”

Critics on both sides of the aisle are calling the statement performative, and are pointing out how Ocasio-Cortez has yet to use her power to force a vote on raising the minimum wage to $15, among other measures. While the Congresswoman’s dress was designed to advocate for a progressive agenda, it turned out to be an invitation for criticism.