AOC and the Met Gala: Scam or Legit Opportunity?

Last night Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attended the Met Gala and caused a stir on the red carpet with a dress that boldly stated: "Tax the Rich."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends “The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art” on Sept. 13, 2021, in New York City, New York. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/via Getty Images).

Last night Vogue held their famous Met Gala, an event that is typically held annually on the first Monday in May, but was canceled last year, and postponed to this September, due to COVID-19. The glamourous soiree is considered to be fashion’s biggest night of the year and the red carpet live stream ensures that attendees and their couture is seen and discussed around the world. 

The theme this year was to celebrate all things in American fashion, which is a notion that appears to be almost as broad as the guest list. Making her Met Gala debut — which is something fashion experts love to point out as if they are praising one of the mere mortals who finally ascended to the cool kids table in the cafeteria — was rising political star Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. 

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Dressed in a white off-the-shoulder gown by Brooklyn-based designer brand Brother Vellies, the New York politician made a distinct statement with her gown. Scrawled in bold lettering on the back of her white satin dress, as she ascended the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with “Tax the Rich” written in bright red. She also chose to wear simple gold hoops, with her hair pulled into its usual style: an elegant but proficient bun.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and fashion designer Aurora James attend The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Mike Coppola/via Getty Images)

Now pundits are alive with questions about whether AOC was right to attend the event and if her dress justifies the apparent hypocrisy of her attendance. The Met Gala is well intentioned: it is meant to fundraise for the Metropolitan Museum which houses treasure troves of art and antiquities. But, in the last decade, the event has turned into a who’s-who of pop culture, and the permanent addition of the Kardashian clan has moved the ball away from celebrating artists and into a realm of pure publicity.

This type of branding is exactly what makes AOC’s appearance all the more controversial, which is actually a great way to garner more publicity. We could easily write her off as another climber — someone who has ascended new levels of social standing on the backs of the poor that she claims to represent. Or, we could see this latest move by AOC for what it is: another clever invention in the digital age to advance the politics of the underserved, in a community who desperately needs to be reminded of the less fortunate. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a co-sponsor of the Affordability Is Access Act, speaks during a meeting of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on June 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/via Getty Images)

What stood out most for me in assessing where the Congresswoman’s intentions truly lay, was the fact that she chose to attend the $35,000 a plate event with her designer, Aurora James, who she described as “a sustainably focused, Black woman immigrant.” Many new attendees tend to promote new designers by name on the Met Gala red carpet, and that is considered a substantial coup for any up-and-coming young fashion star — but AOC took James to the event as her guest. 

The fact that she kept the focus on the message of her gown by wearing her hair and jewelry in the same, basic fashion she always does sent another important message: although she could easily mix in among the rich and famous, she is not one of them. I also can’t think of a better way to get this simple and fundamental message out to millions of people, while forcing other attendees to look in the mirror all night while they sipped champagne and reveled in their own fabulousness.

There are many solid arguments for why AOC’s attendance at the Met Gala is perfectly fine and justifiable, and she made some of those points on the red carpet in anticipation of the expected kick-back. Ocasio-Cortez told reporters that it was her “responsibility” to attend as a New York elected official, which seems like a fair point. She could have publicly rejected an invitation to make the same statement, but this response would have been far less impactful. 

Image of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at her campaign part the moment she found out she had won the election in 2018. (Photo via Getty Images)

AOC also claimed that “the medium is the message” while championing her designer, and she told Vogue: “As a working class woman, [I] wanted to enjoy the event but also break the fourth wall and challenge the industry.” This is another great point in favor of attending, with many caveats on both sides of the argument. She got far more traction for her message by attending the event than she would have by simply dismissing it, which is actually a huge draw for someone who really does not care to maintain a superficial reputation for the sake of pleasing others. 

Regardless of the many reasons, both for and against attending such a lavish ball, in a gown, for the first time, like Cinderella — it’s important to remember that the true fairy tale portion of this story happened on election night, when a 29 year-old bartender and woman of color was elected to the United States Congress. It would have been easy to get swept away in the excitement and glamour of it all, but her message remains as constant as the values AOC continues to profess: it’s time to help those who need it most, and the best place to start is by taxing the rich.


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Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines, and analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.

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