The annual gala at the Metropolitan Museum of New York is not only the quintessential global catwalk, but also a sounding board to launch messages and claim ideas. This is how Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez viewed it in September 2021 (the gala normally takes place the first Monday of May, but that year it was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic) when she walked down the red carpet in a white evening dress with red embroidered letters that spelled out Tax the Rich, and created by Brother Vellies. With that outfit, Ocasio-Cortez managed to eclipse the brightest stars of the movie and entertainment industry, as well as the most famous models and popular influencers.
But the bills for renting the dress, getting her hair and makeup done, and renting a room in a luxury hotel to get dressed have been haunting the congresswoman ever since. According to an ongoing investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), whose deadline has been extended, Ocasio-Cortez – a representative of the most progressive faction of the Democratic Party – may have accepted illegal gifts to attend the Met Gala in 2021.
Data from the inquiry published on March 2 show the frustration bordering on anger of the providers of hairdressing and makeup services for the event, after payments were delayed for months. The dress rental bill and other associated expenses, such as the hourly rental of a room at the upscale Carlyle Hotel and transportation from that establishment to the Met, were paid months later.
In statements to the OCE, Ocasio-Cortez apologized and said that “it just really seems that there was a ball that was dropped.” She added that it was “deeply regrettable” that the payments, worth several thousand dollars, had been delayed, and attributed responsibility to a former employee in her team, whom, she said, had been reminded several times of the need to send the payments. The OCE explained that Ocasio-Cortez appears to have paid for clothing and services provided to her and her partner Riley Roberts, after she was contacted about it.
But congressional investigators have found “substantial reason to believe” that the congresswoman may have violated House ethics rules by what might amount to accepting gifts. The invoices show hundreds of dollars in expenses for the rental of the dress, jewelry, shoes, bag, hairdressing services, makeup and transportation, in addition to the cost, of around $5,000 for the hourly rental of a room in the five-star hotel where she prepared for the gala. However, the investigators also underscored that no evidence of crimes has been found.
Ocasio-Cortez, once the Democrats’ great hope of renewal but whose rising star has been tarnished by the inertia of the party’s establishment, was invited to the gala by Anna Wintour, the editorial director of Vogue and a driving force behind the gala as well as the fashion exhibition that opens every year at the Met. Investigators considered that the invitation to the gala, with tickets normally running at $35,000 per person, was admissible, but that the associated perks allegedly received by Ocasio-Cortez were not.
It was not the first time that someone from the world of politics was on the guest list. New York Mayor Eric Adams was seen at last year’s event and he also had a message to share, End Gun Violence, embroidered with rhinestones on the back of his ornate tuxedo, although the effect was arguably less successful than Ocasio-Cortez’s. Former Secretary of State and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a regular at the event, wore a burgundy evening gown last year embroidered with the names of women who have marked milestones in US history, from Black activist Harriet Tubman to Eleanor Roosevelt and Madeleine Albright.
As for the Tax the Rich slogan on Ocasio-Cortez’s dress, it made waves on social media but also caused a division of opinion, especially among the representative’s more progressive colleagues, who wondered if she was mocking them by wearing a leftist motto at such an elitist event. Conservatives for their part considered it a display of hypocrisy. Ocasio-Cortez defended it as a way to spread a message that she believed in.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition