What is it about?

When US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez debuted at Met Gala in september 2021 her white dress with the words “Tax the rich” scrawled in large red letters spawned a fierce debate on the political message conveyed. In this essay, we want to reconfigure the choice of Ocasio-Cortez from a cultural perspective (Griswold 2013) and make sense of the ongoing legacy of the “Little White Dress”, a garment that appears as a sort of canvas to express social and political statements. Its genealogy is indeed complex and obscure. Following Naomi Lubrich’s reconstruction (2015), the dress appeared during the French Revolution probably as a sartorial tribute to democracy modeled on an ancient Greek women’s gown, but it was also worn by queen Marie Antoinette as a symbol of innocence and martyrdom. It was then adopted by Napoleon’s wife Joséphine as a recalling of her Caribbean ascent and fully integrated in the imperial fashion as a sign of the sobriety of classical antiquity. During the Revolution and the Empire women’s magazines matched the dress with an astonishing range of exotic accessories, showing how polyvalent the dress was; its meaning however grew more and more connected to the political sphere and from time to time linked with colonialism, Jewish emancipation, and the abolition of slavery. In the recent scenario the dress has reappeared in some important cultural events, shining for its talent to support political messages and challenging the observers to make sense of its nature.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

In this article the Little White Dress, born in the French Revolution as a tool of political struggle, is considered as a sort of white canvas for various social and political claims and as an instrument that overcomes space and time to convey a message.


This pubblication employs three main perspectives: fashion sociology, phenomenology of fashion, and historiography.

Filippo Gorla
Universita degli Studi eCampus

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: A not so ordinary story of disobedience: The ‘Little White Dress’ as a contemporary manifesto?, Clothing Cultures, December 2021, Intellect, DOI: 10.1386/cc_00051_1.
You can read the full text:



The following have contributed to this page