The emblazoned message on the white fabric was bold, blood red and on brand: TAX THE RICH.

Progressive Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used the Met Gala — the buzziest event in the New York glitterati calendar — to make a political statement by wearing a dress with the message splashed across the back.

The message itself wasn’t surprising — Ocasio-Cortez has been one of the biggest supporters of raising taxes on the rich to help pay for more social services and narrowing the massive wealth gap between America’s rich and poor. But the latest setting in which AOC — as she is known — chose to express it drew attention.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at The 2021 Met Gala in New York City, on Sept 13. Photographer: Kevin Mazur/MG21/Getty Images

The annual event at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is the haunt of celebrities, designers, billionaires and various other members of the jet set that are willing to pay US$35,000 a pop for the privilege to attend.

The benefit pays for the annual budget of the museum’s Costume Institute, according to the Met’s president and chief executive officer, Daniel Weiss. Justin Bieber performed at Monday’s event, which included a preview of the exhibition “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” that opens to the public on Saturday.

“We need to have a conversation in this country about working families,” Ocasio-Cortez said when asked to comment on her dress and its message.

The gown was designed by Aurora James, founder of New York shoe and handbag line Brother Vellies and the Fifteen Percent Pledge, which asks retailers to dedicate 15 per cent of their shelves to products made by Black-owned businesses.

Ocasio-Cortez is making the statement just as President Joe Biden’s drive to raise taxes on the wealthy is getting diluted by Democratic allies in Congress — undermining his chances of fully delivering on his campaign pledge to curb widening inequality.

House Democrats on Monday released a package of tax increases that scaled back some of the most ambitious elements of a pitch made by the Biden administration in May.

That reflects the political reality of a Senate that requires moderate Democrats to vote en masse for the final package, given the thin margins of the party’s control of the chamber. But it comes at the cost of support from progressives — needed to fire up the electoral base in 2022.

For instance, several House Democrats have said they won’t vote for Biden’s hoped-for US$3.5 trillion spending program for education, health and climate programs if it doesn’t address the US$10,000 cap on the federal deduction for state and local taxes, or SALT. But some party progressives, including Ocasio-Cortez, have called the SALT deduction a give-away to the rich because they say most of the benefits flow to high-income households.

Ocasio-Cortez told the AP that the message on her dress was “about having a real conversation about fairness and equity in our system,” and that’s particularly relevant as lawmakers debate the budget reconciliation bill in Congress. 

“On message for her, she’s a political genius,” billionaire Mike Novogratz said of Ocasio-Cortez’s message at the Met gala. The founder of Galaxy Digital Holdings didn’t attend the event.

But several other of his fellow billionaires did, including Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman, Alejandro Santo Domingo — who oversees the fortune of Colombia's richest family, Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb, and Barry Diller, chairman of IAC/InterActiveCorp. None of them made a statement with their outfit.