The Met Gala: a conversation about American capitalism

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez successfully uses fashion to highlight income inequality

Georgia Bernbaum

The Met Gala is often referred to as “fashion’s biggest night out.” Instead, this year’s show highlighted the need for socioeconomic change. As celebrities and billionaires alike made their way down the red carpet, 34 million people exist below the poverty line. 

To highlight this innate inequality, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez arrived donning a white dress with the phrase “Tax the Rich” sprawled across her lower back. But did her dress effectively communicate her intended message? And, if so, should fashion even be used as an avenue for social commentary?

The theme was American Independence, and what better way to represent this than focusing on America’s history of taxation. AOC recruited none other than Aurora James, founder of the fashion brand Brother Vellies, to help create her dress. Her company was created to promote Black designers and is a favorite among Beyoncé and Meghan Markle. 

However, Aurora James also happens to owe debt in multiple states and has failed to withhold income taxes from employee’s paychecks for several years. And James was not the only one criticized for her hypocrisy. 

While protesting wealth inequality, AOC attended one of the most elite events of the year, with tickets costing $35,000 per person. Simultaneously, Black Lives Matter protestors were arrested outside of the annual soirée.

 The irony potentially devalues the impact of their actions. Some may even wonder whether her dress was merely a publicity stunt to justify her appearance at the event, considering it took place during a global pandemic and excluded the very foundation of American independence, the working class. The question raised is if AOC is bold and subversive or simply tone-deaf. 

AOC’s intent was to initiate discourse, and that she did. Whether it was about the dress itself or the broader issue of income disparity, her purpose was achieved. 

The dress was more than an intricately crafted design statement, but rather each element was chosen to further promote AOC’s values. The placement of the words, which followed the shape of her body, represented society’s need to control women. AOC and many other celebrities have transformed a topic typically viewed as superficial into a mode of political expression. 

Years prior, Joy Villa appeared wearing a similar dress but with blaring red letters reading “Build a Wall”. This year, Representative Carolyn Malony wore a dress and matching purse to honor the suffragette movement. Yet, neither received the same amount of criticism as Ocasio-Cortez. 

Does this controversy stem from the subject or the medium? In terms of the subject, AOC has become extremely divisive for her socialist-leaning opinions and is often targeted by the media. While considering the medium, traditional artists such as Picasso were never criticized for being too political but were hailed as geniuses. Nevertheless, fashion is viewed as nothing more than fabric and seam patterns.

 It’s time that we as a society accept that fashion is evolving to provide meaningful discourse and elevate historically muted voices. By wearing a dress highlighting one of America’s largest inequities, AOC forced the wealthy attendees to acknowledge the issue and the price of independence.