The power of symbolism in fashion
The meaning behind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s defiant outfit
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the white-hot Democratic superstar who, at age 29, became the youngest-ever person sworn in to serve the U.S. Congress on January 3 — and who used that spotlight to showcase her remarkable grasp on the power of symbolism in fashion.
Ocasio-Cortez, affectionately dubbed AOC by her fans, donned a smashing white pantsuit for the occasion, worn in homage to the women who came before — the suffragettes and the political and social groundbreakers who helped pave the way for that historically diverse freshman class.
But she also kicked it up several notches by adding in some accessories “from the block.” Ocasio-Cortez is from the Bronx, and she wore that pride of place on her ears, in the form of big gold hoops. She finished the look with fierce red lipstick.
Then she tweeted out defiantly: “Next time someone tells Bronx girls to take off their hoops, they can just say they are dressing like a Congresswoman.”
AOC later ate some more GOP haters for breakfast when a mash-up Boston University school-spirit video surfaced. The adorable video features a young Ocasio-Cortez dancing barefoot on a rooftop with some other nice kids and a mascot.
The dismay — she, gasp, dances! — from the far right inspired a boomerang that smacked them upside the head: In a real-life Footloose moment, AOC released a GIF of her dancing her way into her spanking new Congressional offices. Perfection.
Ocasio-Cortez proved she learned her feminist history well at college. Protest and female empowerment and fashion have long been inex-
tricably linked. From the earliest days of the suffrage movement (circa 1870s in Britain, then spread round the Western world at the beginning of the 20th century), female activists campaigning for voting rights
and a recognition of personhood for women wore white to send a message of purity.
White was chosen because it is non-threatening, a “womanly” foil, like a delicate sartorial Trojan Horse masking the
fiery resolve of the woman underneath.
The suffragette uniform often included sashes of purple (for dignity) and green (for hope).
Hillary Clinton wore a triumphant white pantsuit to crack that “highest, hardest” glass ceiling as she accepted the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in 2015. I watched her that night with my mother and my daughter.
We believed, in that moment, that the world was going to be different, better, more hopeful than it actually is. Our hopes were dampened by the gut-wrenching backwards slide of the past few years. But hope is a resilient thing, and the image of AOC dancing in Congress definitely feels like a shot of adrenalin.
More personally for OcasioCortez, she was paying tribute also to Shirley Chisholm, a fellow New Yorker, who was the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968. And she was representing for Sonia Sotomayor, who also hails from the Bronx, and who, in 2009, wore rebellious red nail polish to her swearing in as the first Latina Supreme Court Justice.
Ocasio-Cortez is a breath of fresh air, and her insistence that being herself means looking like herself, hoops and all, is inspiring.
Women deserve to be taken seriously no matter what we choose to wear. And AOC is reminding us that it’s possible to mix both meaning and fun into our outfits.
Bring it on.
“Next time someone tells Bronx girls to take off their hoops, they can just say they are dressing like a Congresswoman,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said of her subversive sartorial selection to be sworn in to U.S. Congress. GETTY IMAGES