Here’s a tired thread: criticizing a female politician over her clothes, particularly the clothes loaned to her for a fashion-magazine photo shoot.
Yet social media was thrown into a tizzy this week, just days before the Nov. 3 election, over Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s December cover for Vanity Fair. The uproar wasn’t about what she said, so much — even though she referred to President Trump as a “motherf—er” over the New York Times report that he only paid $750 in income taxes in more than one recent year. No, the backlash was over what she wore: a collection of designer suits, dresses and heels from the likes of Carolina Herrera and Christian Louboutin that the Daily Mail tallied up to be worth $14,310.
And many Republican critics of the young New York representative, whom Vanity Fair described as a “millennial Puerto Rican Democratic Socialist,” have suggested that the couture clothes don’t match Ocasio-Cortez’s picture of economic equality, including a proposed 70% tax on the very rich.
Political commentator Sunanda Vashisht tweeted, “So happy that AOC is upholding the long established hypocritical tradition of Socialists who believe Socialism is for poor while they enjoy the fruits of Capitalism.” Her tweet drew more than 10,000 likes and was retweeted more than 7,000 times by Thursday afternoon.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham tweeted that “AOC appears in Vanity Fair in outfits worth $14,000 to curse out Trump,” and Vanity Fair began trending on Twitter. Ingraham’s post had been shared almost 7,000 times, and drew more than 9,000 comments by Thursday afternoon.
Those who came to Ocasio-Cortez’s defense, however, pointed out that the clothes did not belong to the congresswoman; Vanity Fair got the fancy threads on loan for the purposes of the shoot, which is a common practice in the fashion industry.
And Ocasio-Cortez called out Ingraham to make this point, herself. “I don’t know if you’ve been on a photoshoot, Laura, but you don’t keep the clothes,” she tweeted.
She also slammed the GOP for perpetuating “the whole ‘she wore clothes in a magazine, let’s pretend they’re hers’ gimmick,” which she called “the classic Republican strategy of ‘let’s willfully act stupid, and if the public doesn’t take our performative stupidity seriously then we’ll claim bias.’ ”
Indeed, while what politicians choose to wear is often a part of their communications strategy, as the New York Times recently reported, picking apart the appearances of female politicians is also often used as a way to dismiss women in positions of power.
Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, was attacked once news broke that the Republican National Committee had dropped more than $150,000 on clothes and accessories for her and her family during the campaign, which didn’t mesh with her image as a hockey mom and maverick from Alaska. In fact, a 2010 Vanity Fair article referred to the controversy in a headline as “Sarah Palin’s Shopping Spree.” And, of course, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s signature pantsuits have been a running joke for decades.
But AOC’s appearance has been subject to particular scrutiny, as when a Washington Examiner writer tweeted a photograph of her two years ago with the caption, “that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.” Her response: “If I walked into Congress wearing a sack, they would laugh & take a picture of my backside,” she tweeted. “If I walk in with my best sale-rack clothes, they laugh & take a picture of my backside.”
The New York Post criticized her for wearing a $232 sequined dress on “The View” in February, which was marked down from $580.
And her $250 trip to the salon last fall, which included a haircut, coloring job and tip for the stylist, was attacked by the Washington Times under the headline “Self-declared socialist AOC splurges on high-dollar hairdo,” despite the fact that this is what a cut and color costs in many urban areas across the country.
Ocasio-Cortez actually addresses her wardrobe in the new Vanity Fair cover story, revealing that dressing for her $174,000-a-year political position is difficult because she wasn’t groomed for it growing up. “It continues to take me so long to try to figure out how to look put-together without having a huge designer closet,” she told the magazine. “It’s legitimately hard being a first-generation woman … and being working class, trying to navigate a professional environment.”
She also had some choice words for the White House, particularly the recent report about the president’s taxes. “These are the same people saying that we can’t have tuition-free public colleges because there’s no money, when these motherf—ers are only paying $750 a year in taxes,” she said.