The Democratic congresswoman made her first appearance at the Costume Institute Gala on Monday night

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Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez
Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez decided to send a bold message with her fashion at the 2021 Met Gala.

The Democratic congresswoman, 31, made her debut appearance at the Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum on Monday, wearing a white gown by Brother Vellies with the political slogan "Tax the Rich" splashed across the back in red lettering.

She completed the outfit with a pair of red shoes and a bag also bearing the same words.

"It's really about having a real conversation," Ocasio-Cortez told reporters about the inspiration behind the statement. "It's about fairness and equity in our system and I think that this conversation is particularly relevant."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Credit: Kevin Mazur/MG21/Getty

"I would not be here if it wasn't with Aurora as a designer," she continued. "Aurora James, she started off just a couple years ago with three grand in her pockets at the fleas selling her works and now she's here at the Met Gala. And that is the story of our city, it's the story of who should be centered, especially as a Black woman, immigrant designer in an industry where that is severely underrepresented. If we were going to do this, it was to bust the door open and bring people to the Met."

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Speaking on the potential backlash to her attendance at the Met Gala, the New York representative said, "I think I'm kind of at the point where no matter what I do, if I wake up in the morning, there's going to be someone who has something to say about that. So at the very least, what we should do is act in our integrity and do things with intention and purpose."

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James, the founder and creative director of Brother Vellies, also opened up about the design to Vogue, saying, "We can never get too comfortable in our seats at the table once they've been given," she said. "We must always continue to push ourselves, push our colleagues, push the culture and push the country forward."

She added, "Fashion is changing, America is changing. And as far as this theme goes, I think Alexandria and I are a great embodiment of the language fashion needs to consider adding to the general lexicon as we work towards a more sustainable, inclusive, and empowered future."

Be sure to check out all of PEOPLE's Met Gala coverage to get the latest news on fashion's biggest night.

As PEOPLE previously reported, the annual gala is enforcing a COVID-19 vaccination mandate and mask requirement after being postponed (the 2020 Met Gala was canceled).

"Currently, all attendees at The Met Gala on September 13 must provide proof of full vaccination and will also be expected to wear masks indoors except when eating or drinking," a spokesperson for The Met confirmed to PEOPLE in August. "We will update these guidelines as needed."

The museum's next exhibition will include a series of events celebrating American fashion. Part one, titled In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, will debut on Sept. 18, 2021 and run through Sept. 5, 2022 to "celebrate The Costume Institute's 75th anniversary and explore a modern vocabulary of American fashion," the release states.

Part two, In America: An Anthology of Fashion, will open on May 5, 2022 and "will explore the development of American fashion by presenting narratives that relate to the complex and layered histories of those spaces." It will also close on Sept. 5, 2022.