‘Medium is the message’: AOC defends ‘tax the rich’ dress worn to Met Gala

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When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a white gown with the message “tax the rich” emblazoned in red to the Met Gala, one of New York’s swankiest events, she was sure to ruffle some feathers.

Related: The Met Gala 2021: eight key moments from fashion’s big night

Critics duly disparaged the move as both hypocritical and tone deaf. The New York congresswoman, a leading House progressive, was happy to set the record straight.

“The medium is the message,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Instagram.

“NYC elected officials are regularly invited to and attend the Met due to our responsibilities in overseeing our city’s cultural institutions that serve the public. I was one of several in attendance. Dress is borrowed.”

Ocasio-Cortez was also determined to use the spotlight to reiterate her commitment to principles that have made her both an icon and a lightning rod on the national political scene, widely known by her initials, AOC.

“The time is now for childcare, healthcare and climate action for all,” she wrote. “Tax the Rich.”

The dress turned heads at arguably the hottest red carpet event of the year. Ocasio-Cortez lauded Aurora James, the Black, immigrant creative director and founder of luxury brand ​​Brother Vellies, for helping her “kick open the doors” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Fashion is changing, America is changing,” James said, according to Vogue. “I think Alexandria and I are a great embodiment of the language fashion needs to consider adding to the general lexicon as we work towards a more sustainable, inclusive and empowered future.”

Fans dubbed the look “simply iconic” and called Ocasio-Cortez “an anti-capitalist queen”. Some appreciated that when surrounded by the elite, Ocasio-Cortez chose to flash a message meant to make fellow guests sweat.

“AOC wearing this dress at an event full of rich people … this woman has more balls than any man in Congress,” one supporter tweeted.

Detractors across the political spectrum highlighted what they saw as hypocrisy.

“If [AOC] hates the rich so much, why is she attending an event that only the wealthiest people in America can afford to attend?” asked writer David Hookstead.

Vanessa Friedman, fashion director for the New York Times, called the disconnect between Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance at the gala and her message “a complicated proposition”.

A leading progressive voice, Black Lives Matter Greater NY, accused the congresswoman of being “performative” and “not very socialist”, especially after protesters were arrested outside the Met.

“If you wanted to party with celebs … we get it,” a statement said. “But this right here cannot be excused.”

Others came to Ocasio-Cortez’s defense, noting how her dress made a “core message” go viral.

In response to her critics, Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Instagram that she was accustomed to being “heavily and relentlessly policed from all corners politically”.

“Ultimately the haters hated and the people who are thoughtful were thoughtful,” she wrote. “But we all had a conversation about Taxing the Rich in front of the very people who lobby against it, and punctured the fourth wall of excess and spectacle.”

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