When politics and fashion collide

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Jayne Abraham

Senior Chloe Isbell views Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Met Gala dress reveal on Instagram.

Jayne Abraham, Editor-in-Chief

The Met Gala returned with the theme of American independence on Monday, Sept. 13. The prestigious event is known to inspire eccentric looks by celebrities, and this year was no exception. Jennifer Lopez was in attendance, flaunting an elaborate Western look, and Kim Kardashian turned heads in an all-black outfit.

But one especially memorable look was that of congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), who wore a white dress with the phrase “TAX THE RICH” written on the back in bold, red letters.

Considering the Met Gala’s theme of American independence as well as AOC’s status as a politician, many found her look to be both fitting and bold. To make such a statement among wealthy and influential celebrities was seen by many as a daring act. However, others could not praise AOC without acknowledging what they felt to be the glaring irony of it all.

For some, the dress was reminiscent of singer Joy Villa’s “Build the Wall” dress at the 2019 Grammy Awards, but the truth of whether AOC’s dress was a satirical take on Villa’s dress or a painfully similar attempt to make a political statement lies in the eyes of the beholder.

AOC has unwaveringly advocated for the rights of marginalized communities and has prioritized workers’ rights in her initiatives. Her famous Green New Deal proposal and legislative efforts like the Uplift Our Workers Act–a bill meant to establish a score system to assess worker friendliness in various workplaces that died in a previous Congress–display her passion for social issues.

AOC has also tirelessly advocated for taxing the rich, even creating merchandise displaying the phrase “TAX THE RICH” on it. Unsurprisingly, conservatives have attacked AOC for such sentiments, but this time around, she was met with backlash from both sides.

Republican and long-time critic of AOC Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, “What makes @AOC a bigger fraud: The ‘tax the rich’ dress while she’s hanging out with a bunch of wealthy leftwing elites or the lack of masks after spending the past 18 months as one of the biggest authoritarian mask Karens in the country?” This type of criticism from the right is nothing new, but progressives expressed a slightly different sentiment when calling AOC out.

White House Correspondent for The New York Times Annie Karni summarized the backlash that AOC has received from progressives. “But more surprising than the rote judgments from her political opponents was the criticism Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, generated from the left — a chorus of dissatisfaction from progressives and self-described socialists disappointed by a gesture they said caricatured a progressive cause and underscored their sense that she is not maximizing her ability to fight for working people from Congress,” she explained.

In contrast to the right, critics on the left were not dissatisfied with the message to tax the rich but, rather, with AOC’s perceived ineptitude to use her apparent stature and large base of support to do just that in Congress.

AOC took to social media to respond to criticism. “Ocasio-Cortez responded Tuesday on her Instagram story saying she thought about the criticism she would receive and that her body has been ‘policed from all corners politically’ since she was elected to Congress,” ABC News journalist Danielle DuClose reported.

But perhaps the uproar surrounding AOC’s dress was the intended result.

It is true that politics is dependent on drawing attention, which often means taking outrageous and even controversial measures. Whether people are cringing at the irony of AOC’s message or praising her bravery, they are still talking about both her and her proposal.

Senior Caroline Sierk commented on the buzz surrounding AOC’s Met Gala outfit. “AOC did exactly what is expected of MET guests: start conversations. Wheels started turning within her massive audience of liberals and conservatives alike.”

Perhaps it is true that there is no such thing as bad press, especially when it comes to politics.

However, it was not just AOC’s dress that sparked outrage at the Met Gala, as the dress’s designer, Aurora James, quickly became a topic of discussion, too. John Levine and Kathianne Boniello of the New York Post reported, “The 37-year-old fashionista who made waves at the Met Gala with Democratic-Socialist AOC last week is a notorious tax deadbeat with unpaid debts dogging her in multiple states, records show.”

Even though this adds another cringe-worthy layer to an already controversial issue, it has one redeeming quality–it has kept people talking. If AOC’s goal was to create multifaceted political buzz regarding taxing the rich with her dress and designer, she has been largely successful. However, if this was not her intention, her dress has rightfully left a bad taste in the mouths of liberals and conservatives alike.

Regardless of intention, people are talking. With the return of fashion events like the Met Gala, as proven by AOC, the intersection of fashion and politics is once again becoming prevalent.