To Dress Politics
With crowds of Black Lives Matter protesters outside and a vaccine mandate inside, the much-delayed Met Gala finally went ahead in New York on Monday evening. The event, usually held on the first Monday in May, was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and rescheduled this year for the same reason.
Typically, the politics of fashion is a subtle business, with colour or cut used to convey a message. So it was with the front of congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s dress at her first Met Gala appearance. The gown was suffragette white, with tuxedo detailing more typically seen in menswear. But when she turned around, the message was loud and clear: “Tax the Rich” printed in bold, red typeface across the entire back bodice.
The dress was designed by Aurora James, the creative director of Brother Vellis. James is a vocal supporter of, in her words, “economic justice”. In 2020, she started the 15% Pledge – a call to major retailers in the US to ensure at least 15% of their shelf space is dedicated to black-owned businesses, a campaign that Sephora, West Elm, and Vogue have signed up to. On the red carpet, she told Vogue that the campaign had directed $10bn towards Black businesses to date.
But, as New York Times’ fashion editor, Vanessa Friedman, notes, the optics are complicated.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not the only attendee in a slogan gown. The model and actor Cara Delevingne, also in white and red, had “Peg the patriarchy” printed across her chest, while the congresswoman Carolyn Maloney wore a gown in the full spectrum of suffragette shades (green, white, and violet – for “give women votes”) that read “Equal rights for women” across two long trains falling from her shoulders. Unfortunately, the secretary of the interior, Deb Haaland, whose use of fashion is the most skillful in US politics today, was not in attendance.
As for Cara, while she didn’t disclose much about the ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ splashed across the chest of her white bullet vest, she did say it was a powerful feminist statement and essentially a middle finger to patriarchy but she ultimately advise us to ‘google it’ and so we did, and this is what we found out.
According to Google: “Luna Matatas coined Peg the Patriarchy in 2015 to get provocative about subverting the system of patriarchy. Patriarchy has no gender, working to dismantle it benefits us all.” Well, you heard what the woman said. Cara gave us a bold reminder of why we need to dismantle this oppressive system.
The 75-year-old also showed off a green purse that read “ERA YES” while walking the red carpet at the annual exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
Maloney’s outfit was a reference to the Equal Rights Amendment, designed to provide the legal equality of the sexes and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.
The proposed constitutional amendment has been waiting on state ratification since Congress passed it in 1972.
In 2020, the House of Representatives voted to remove the 1982 deadline for state ratification and reopen the possibility for the amendment to pass.
Maloney explained the importance of the dress in a Tweet before attending the gala.
“Across the country, women’s rights are under attack,” she wrote.