Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez walks up the Capitol stairs, poised and professional in a colorful power suit, ready to implement new policies and meet with congressional representatives. Her unique platform as a young, female democratic socialist allows her to inspire young professionals, and her businesswear has significantly influenced women’s fashion. Ocasio-Cortez’s power dressing, or establishing professionalism and authority through clothing, has captured the attention of the media, integrating new depth into her wardrobe. Drawing inspiration from prominent historical figures and movements, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) uses power dressing to subtly stand for social initiatives, reflect her political opinions and address the criticism of her political opponents.
Swearing-in ceremonies are the first impressions of elected officials, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s swearing-in outfit set the tone for her fashion choices throughout her first term. In her ceremony, she wore a stark white suit with a bold red lip and gold hoop earrings, paying homage to Sonia Sotomayor, an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. Ocasio-Cortez admired Sotomayor for both her policies and her polished, professional image. Sotomayor historically wore red lipstick despite being told that she needed to dress more conservatively on the Supreme Court. Ocasio-Cortez similarly refuses to stay inside the misogynistic outlines enforced for female politicians. AOC’s Latino heritage and roots in the Bronx also inspired her hoop earrings, which are typically seen as unprofessional. Pairing them with her swearing-in outfit represented her refusal to adhere to the beliefs of her closed-minded predecessors. Her suit color had historical significance as well, as women’s suffrage is often associated with bright white garments, causing her swearing-in outfit to embody her focus on equity. She followed through on these sentiments by enacting policy changes during her first term like advocating for the abolishment of ICE and pushing for Medicare for All.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s swearing-in outfit laid the groundwork for her general style as her power suits established her authority in a traditionally male-dominated political environment. Subtly referencing the policies she addresses in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez’s suits contribute to her political agenda. When she introduced the Green New Deal, a framework to drastically reduce carbon emissions, Ocasio-Cortez wore an emerald green suit to lobby representatives, speak in press conferences and appear in the media. AOC used her platform to advocate in more ways than solely through legislature with her suit representing the importance of spreading awareness for environmental justice.
In times of great loss due to COVID-19, AOC sported bright, pastel sets to perpetuate ideas of hope. Her favorite of these sets was a pastel blue piece, which allowed her to take on an uplifting role, contrasting dismal news about the pandemic by seeking the positives. AOC’s community was an epicenter for cases, so her hopeful perspective helped revitalize her community through symbolic pieces of clothing. In Congress, she took actions that promoted this by urging her colleagues to include rent relief in stimulus bills, encouraging FEMA to provide funeral assistance to families of COVID-19 victims, and advocating for those at disproportional risk to the virus like immigrants in detention centers.
While suits like these carry passive messages, some are much bolder. In retaliation to Representative Ted Yoho’s verbal attacks in 2020, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave an inspiring speech while wearing a bright red suit. The red she wore symbolized power and functioned as a denial of the color’s traditional Republican symbolism. By reclaiming the color red as a young, progressive congresswoman, Ocasio-Cortez used her power suit to represent her strength. The color red is also associated with International Women’s Day, which makes its symbolism even more impactful because of AOC’s reason for her speech, as she refused to let anyone disrespect her.
Comments like Representative Yoho’s are not isolated, however, and Ocasio-Cortez frequently faces backlash for her politics and her fashion. As a democratic socialist, Ocasio-Cortez is expected by the public and by her more conservative colleagues to avoid high-end and unsustainable clothing. Simultaneously, she’s expected to appear professionally while in Congress. Ocasio-Cortez accomplishes this by frequenting thrift shops, proving that it is possible to be professional and eco-friendly on a budget, empowering her supporters and furthering her political agenda.
Through her bold fashion statements, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez empowers others while attracting attention to the issues in which she believes most strongly. Her fashion choices not only spark media attention but also reflect her beliefs and strengths. As a woman of color coming from a low-income part of New York City, AOC uses her suits to portray the power of the unheard. She advocates for those ignored by other representatives, whether this be women who have been the target of discrimination or those suffering from COVID-19. By calling attention to significant issues in all ways possible including her fashion choices, AOC demonstrates the strength of power dressing and of her political agenda.