There’s a deeply sexist subtext to the ‘controversy’ around Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s dress

Posted by
Jessica Rapana
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A conservative newspaper just tried to shame AOC for wearing a “luxe designer dress”. But this latest controversy about the politician isn’t merely silly, it highlights the double standard between the way the media treats men and women in the public eye. 

There were a lot of newsworthy moments to come out of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance on The View last week – and yet, apparently, none more so than what the congresswoman was wearing.

A so-called scoop ran by the New York Post was that Ocasio-Cortez – or AOC, as she is universally-known – wore a “luxe designer dress” during her appearance on the talk show. For the record, Ocasio-Cortez also talked about universal healthcare, her endorsement of Bernie Sanders and why the US political system revolves nearly entirely around rich white men – but the dress! The dress was from Saks Fifth Avenue. 

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“The lefty darling set tongues wagging when she donned a luxe designer dress for her Wednesday appearance on The View,” the newspaper reported. “The congresswoman with a cause may have ponied up the $580 for the polyester glam, but if she checked the sales rack recently, could have snagged it for the comparatively cost-conscious price of $232.”

“Either way, AOC is still spending like a socialist compared to establishment Dem Hillary Clinton, who got pilloried in 2016 for wearing a $12,000 Armani tweed jacket while delivering a speech on income inequality.”

Unsurprisingly, the story has been widely ridiculed online – including by AOC herself. She retweeted the story, writing: “Yep! I rent, borrow, and thrift my clothes. (It’s also environmentally sustainable!). The Post is just mad that you can look good fighting for working families.” She added: “Sequins are a great accessory to universal healthcare, don’t you agree?”

Clearly, Ocasio-Cortez can look after herself. But that’s not the point here. This non-story around her clothing carries with it a darker subtext. As many pointed out on Twitter, this is the kind of article that would never be written about a man. As one person tweeted: “Matt Gaetz was on The View wearing a suit that I guarantee cost more than AOC’s dress. Why didn’t you write about THAT?” 

Another thing: if AOC had not been looking so well-dressed, courtesy of that “luxe designer dress”, that would no doubt have triggered another equally snarky headline. As someone else commented: “Y’all are wild. You come down on @AOC about an H&M blazer, and then she steps it up, and you come down on her about her dress. I literally never want to hear that sexism doesn’t exist ever again.” 

This isn’t the first time that AOC has been “struggle-shamed” for her clothing. Washington Examiner reporter Eddie Scarry tweeted a photo of her outfit in 2018, with the caption: “Hill staffer sent me this pic of Ocasio-Cortez they took just now. I’ll tell you something: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.” The coat was plain and black, but what does “a girl who struggles” look like anyway? Or how about last October when The Washington Times ran an “exclusive” about her “high-dollar hairdo”? Most women would agree that $300 for a cut, lowlights and a tip of 20% in New York is market rate. But again, that’s not the point.

Women in the public eye are constantly finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place: they must looked well-groomed without appearing too profligate. This fixation on Ocasio-Cortez’s outfit du jour is not about style, it’s about gender. Sexism under the guise of so-called fashion critique is still sexism. Or, as Time reporter Charlotte Atler so perfectly summed up on Twitter: “The sexist obsession with @AOC’s clothing is part of a broader campaign to discredit her politics by making her seem frivolous or hypocritical.”

As a young, opinionated, trail-blazing woman in Washington, Ocasio-Cortez is, by nature, a threat. So when peeled back, these transparent attacks are nothing more than attempts to quash a woman so clearly on the rise. And if the worst you can say about AOC is that she wears sparkly clothing, you’re really scraping the barrel in your attacks.

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Jessica Rapana

Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.

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