The Met Gala is known for being one of the biggest events in fashion and isn’t a stranger to controversy. Many celebrities use this publicity-rife event as a chance to leverage their voice, like Billie Eilish, who only agreed to wear Oscar de la Renta if the fashion label went completely fur-free, and she stunned in their Marilyn Monroe-inspired dress. However, other outfits, like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich” dress generated far more discourse on both sides of the aisle.
Many conservatives criticized Ocasio-Cortez on the basis of false claims, accusing her of spending large sums of money to attend the event and buy the dress. However, though tickets for the Met Gala can cost anywhere from $35,000 to $300,000, Ocasio-Cortez was invited along with many other New York elected officials as guests of the museum who do not pay for their ticket. Likewise, the dress was borrowed, not bought. On the other hand, those on the left criticize Ocasio-Cortez for attending at all, given that she was rubbing shoulders with the wealthiest members of American society rather than serving the working-class people she often claims to champion.
I think Ocasio-Cortez knew exactly what she was doing when she wore that dress to the Met Gala. She wanted everyone talking about her dress and her platform, and that’s exactly what happened. To me, that seems like a well-played move, and it’s gutsy for her to walk into the upper echelons of the New York elite and start these kinds of conversations. If she’d paid for the ticket and the dress, I’d agree that that would be hypocritical, but she didn’t. Instead, she took the chance to boost her message and keep conversations that she cared about going. That, I can respect.
However, rumors are circulating that Ocasio-Cortez’s designer, Brother Vellies, may be in hot water regarding their own taxes. British tabloid Daily Mail, along with several other conservative newspapers, claims to have dug up information that indicates the fashion brand still has outstanding tax warrants from before the pandemic, along with six federal liens, meaning that the government has a legal claim against your property when you fail to pay a tax debt. Brother Vellies is not exactly low profile either; while Ocasio-Cortez said on the red carpet that “We really started having a conversation about what it means to be a working class women of color at the Met,” the brand she wore is known for dressing plenty of other celebrities such as Beyoncé, Meghan Markle, Zendaya, Rihanna and Lady Gaga (though it’s worth noting that almost all of these celebrities are women of color). The designer, Aurora James, is a woman of color who founded 15percent Pledge, a nonprofit that asks brands to devote 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands.
While I respect Ocasio-Cortez’s political move to get people talking about her platform and her political stances, I do think she made a mistake when choosing her designer. Whether or not Brother Vellies does have outstanding tax warrants like several sources claim, the brand is not exactly a low-profile small business, and Ocasio-Cortez does not seem to be supporting the underdog as much as one might hope. As is often the case with controversy, Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich” dress is not a black-and-white issue, and the ethical questions raised are worth discussing for people of all political leanings.
Sources: AOC’s ‘Tax the Rich’ dress designer’s firm ran up tax arrears of $130,000 | Daily Mail Online; AOC’s ‘Tax The Rich Dress’ – Ultimate Fashion Statement Or Display Of Hypocrisy (forbes.com); Why A.O.C.’s Met Gala Dress Made People Mad – The New York Times (nytimes.com)