Since her election in 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has served as a massive inspiration for many – at 29 years old, she is the youngest woman ever to serve in the US Congress. She has an active social media presence, the power of which was evident recently when a stream of her playing Among Us with a group of popular creators captured an audience of over 400,000. It is so refreshing to see a politician actually acting like a human, and this down-to-earth personality that people have come to love is reflected in her fashion sense.
AOC’s dress sense has quickly become iconic in the few years she has held office – the white pantsuit, bright red lip and gold hoop combo that she wore for her swearing in ceremony is a winning one, and it had a bigger impact beyond just looking great.
Throughout history, red lips have been seen as a sign of dubious morality – associated with sexual promiscuity, prostitution or even witchcraft. In the Dark and Middle ages, they were a sign of collaborating with the Devil. Despite this, red lipstick has historically been a favourite of powerful women – Cleopatra, Elizabeth I and the Suffragettes, to name a few. Having been used as a weapon against women, and reclaimed as a symbol of power and confidence, red lipstick was the perfect choice for AOC to wear as she joined the ranks of women that the history books will remember.
The pairing of red lipstick with gold hoops has cultural significance, too – the red lip and hoop combo has been a staple of Latina culture for centuries, and its association with working-class Latina women has led to racist stereotypes and mockery. AOC’s decision to don her hoops in congress is an impactful one in Trump’s America.
Alexandria tweeted after her appearance –
Of the entire US Congress, only 22% is non-white. By publicly celebrating her heritage against the overwhelmingly white backdrop of Congress, AOC sets a precedent. She is changing the image of what a congress member can look like. As a result, she has had to endure her fair share of racist backlash – Fox News frequently attacks her heritage, with one of its guests, a University of Maryland professor, stating that her ‘Latin-American values’ were going to destroy America. Attempting to conform to appease this bigotry was never an option for AOC, which is what makes her fashion sense so empowering.
Society’s need to police the appearance of women is still ever-present. In February, British MP Tracy Brabin was bombarded with sexual comments and accusations of unprofessionalism after wearing a one-shoulder dress to parliament. Young girls are constantly punished in schools for outfits that are ‘distracting’ for boys. The Daily Mail posts a new article every day about a different female celebrity’s body. AOC’s loud and proud approach to her appearance is incredibly empowering, and it sends a message to young women that they should choose what to wear based on what makes them feel confident and happy in their own skin – not what a loud white guy on TV says they should wear.
Header image: Original illustrations by Annie King-Ferguson. Instagram: lohorowan