The MetGala and Fashion Statements for Social Justice

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez with designer Aurora James.

Every year, celebrities, artists, fashion designers and entertainers look forward to the most extravagant and expensive event of the year: the Met Gala. Although the main focus of the Met Gala is to fundraise for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, it is also an opportunity to make a fashion statement. 

With the theme of this year’s Met Gala being “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” and a central focus being placed on American independence, many celebrities took this as an opportunity to use their fashion to make a statement regarding the social issues facing America. Throughout the past year, the United States has faced countless social issues that lack the attention they deserve. Therefore, attendees made statements about social issues ranging from wealth inequality to equal rights. 

Congresswoman Carolyn B. Mahoney wore a purple, green and yellow dress with the words “equal rights for women” written on the sides. She also held a tambourine with the words “ERA yes” on them, standing for her support of the Equal Rights Amendment, which has yet to be passed. The Equal Rights Amendment would guarantee legal gender equality for women and men. 

Along with representing women’s rights, many used their fashion to draw attention to the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community, specifically United States Women’s National Team soccer player Megan Rapinoe and makeup artist Nikkie de Jager (better known as nikkietutorials). Rapinoe rocked a bright red suit with a blue undershirt representing the American flag, while holding a bright blue marble purse quoting, “In Gay we trust,” aiming to represent the LGBTQ+ community that Rapinoe herself is a part of. In an attempt to honor Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender woman known for her efforts during the Stonewall Rebellion and aid to the LGBTQ+ youth, de Jager remodeled her dress after a crown that Johnson wore in a famous picture. 

The fashion statement that I believe earned the most attention belongs to New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), who wore a white dress with words “Tax the Rich’’ painted on the back in red. Ocasio-Cortez advocates for many different progressive causes, including the Green New Deal and taxing the wealthy. Despite the strong message AOC’s fashion statement was meant to represent, she was met with controversy from both sides of the political spectrum, even her own. 

Donald Trump Jr. called out AOC on “hypocrisy” and said that she is disregarding her own message by “hanging out with a bunch of wealthy leftwing elitists.” Along with judgement and criticism from the right, AOC also received criticism from the left. 

Progressive and self-described socialists also demonstrated disapproval of AOC’s dress, saying that the gesture caricatured a progressive cause and AOC did not maximize her ability to advocate for working people in congress. 

Despite the criticism, many progressives still support AOC and her work, and she has done a great deal to aid the working-class and all people of America. Maya Wiley, former New York City mayoral candidate whose campaign was endorsed by AOC, publicly defended AOC and her fashion statement. 

According to the New York Times, Wiley said the Met Gala is part of the culture of New York City and self-identifying as a democratic socialist doesn’t mean hating or avoiding the wealthy that show up. Wiley said that she thought of AOC’s fashion statement as brilliant to bring up such a relevant topic to the celebrities and wealthy attending the Met Gala. 

Along with Wiley, Faiz Shakir, manager of Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign, also defended her by saying, “She’s generally happy to make people excited about a different vision for America. There’s an art to it: Politics is theater. You’re figuring out ways to animate it.” 

In response to the criticism AOC received, she told the New York Times that “before anybody starts wilding out — 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.” 

AOC posted on Instagram that she felt as if she is policed from all corners of the political spectrum ever since she became a congresswoman.