The body politic: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brings back the political slogan

By Priya Elan
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Aurora James in her Tax the Rich dress.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Aurora James in her Tax the Rich dress. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

More than Frank Ocean’s creepy baby or even Doja Cat’s Thom Browne “worm” dress from the VMAs a few nights earlier, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Met Gala by dress by Brother Vellies was truly jaw-dropping.

From the front, the white, strapless number suggested a bridesmaid or even Elsa from Frozen. But from the back, it was a different story. Written in a font Freddy Krueger might have approved of, in a shade of red which suggested it was the result of an attack from Peta, the “Tax The Rich” slogan was a timely throwback to the tradition of declarative political slogans daubed on clothes.

Lizzo at that 2020 Billboard Music awards.
Lizzo at that 2020 Billboard Music awards. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/BBMA2020/Getty Images for dcp

Thanks largely to the lack of red carpet events as a result of the pandemic, there has been a dearth of clothes doing the talking. You have to think back to Lizzo wearing a Christian Siriano “VOTE” bandage dressalmost a year ago for a recent example. More recently, the trend has been ironed out in favour of more hidden, coded messages. Whether that has been the wearing of pink, union jacks or Converse, semaphoring political allegiances has gained an oblique, subtle energy, even when many have asked why some fashion brands have not been more vocal on social justice issues, notably the rise in anti-Asian hate crime.

In the context of the Met Gala theme – a wooly “tribute to American style” – this was a perfect platform for the sartorial slogan to return. Cara Delevingne wore a Dior bib which said “peg the patriarchy”, transgender YouTuber Nikkie de Jager wore a sash which said “pay it no mind” in tribute to the activist Marsha P Johnson. The footballer Megan Rapinoe held a clutch which said “In Gay We Trust” and congresswoman Carolyn Maloney wore a dress with a train that said: “equal rights for women”.

Nikkie de Jager’s tribute to trans activist Marsha P Johnson.
Nikkie de Jager’s tribute to trans activist Marsha P Johnson. Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

But it was Ocasio-Cortez’s “double take” dress which provided the biggest fashion win: an outfit which combined beauty with an ugly truth about the dangers of becoming complacent. It isolated a constant need for activism among the fabulousness.

“The time is now for childcare, healthcare and climate action for all. Tax the rich,” the congresswoman explained on Twitter. Dress designer, Brother Vellies founder Aurora James, who accompanied Ocasio-Cortez on the red carpet, chimed in on Instagram, writing: “Fashion at its best is a tool to express ourselves … we must continue to push this country forward even when it makes us uncomfortable.”

Andrew Burnstine, an associate professor at Lynn University, thinks the statement will having a lasting impact. “My biggest question for the future is: ‘Will there be a Barbie AOC doll with ‘Tax the Rich’ on it for the future generations to have?”


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