The Met might as well have been 14 million miles away. Marie Mandarino, the owner of the City Island Lobster House, was asked if anyone had mentioned the white mermaid dress or the message that was spelled out in bright red lettering.
“Not to my knowledge,” she said. “I honestly think it was disgusting, but that’s just my point of view. ‘Tax the rich’ at a $30,000-a-plate fund-raiser, which is totally ridiculous? But I don’t talk politics or religion with anyone here. It’s a good way to lose friends.” (Actually, tickets were priced at $35,000.)
But the dress — by Aurora James, founder of Brother Vellies and the 15 Percent Pledge — remained a topic of discussion among fashion critics and on social media. GQ said it was “precision-engineered Met Gala messaging,” adding that Ocasio-Cortez “took advantage of the event’s viral-making context.” Other fashion types said the dress was more interesting than the words on it — words executed ironically in the finest haute craft.
Along with Fashion Week and the reopening of Broadway, the Met Gala was another milestone in what Vanessa Friedman, The Times’s fashion critic, called “the vaccine-required re-emergence of New York.” (And, she added, “you know something has changed when the biggest celebrity at a fashion show is not Gina Gershon or Nicky Hilton, but Kathy Hochul, the new governor of New York.”)
As my colleague Annie Karni noted, Ocasio-Cortez’s attendance at the gala and her dress were easy targets for her usual critics. On Twitter, Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s eldest son, tagged her as a fraud for sending a message about taxing the rich “while she’s hanging out with a bunch of wealthy leftwing elites.”
The image of Ocasio-Cortez “rubbing elbows with those people” on Monday night irked some on the left, said Briahna Gray, the former national press secretary for Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2020 campaign and the co-host of the “Bad Faith” podcast.
Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Instagram that she had anticipated criticism. “Ultimately the haters hated and the people who are thoughtful were thoughtful,” she wrote. “But we all had a conversation about taxing the rich in front of the very people who lobby against it, and punctured the 4th wall of excess and spectacle.” She also said that elected officials attended events like the Met Gala “due to our responsibilities in keeping cultural institutions accessible to the public.”