Worn and scuffed with cracks and holes in them, the shoes that Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wore campaigning will be shown at Cornell in an exhibit beginning Dec. 6.
The exhibit, entitled “Women Empowered: Fashions From the Frontline” will feature clothing items that represent women’s empowerment. The exhibit is part of the biennial celebration that the Cornell Council for the Arts has held throughout the fall semester.
After winning the primary election in June 2018, Ocasio-Cortez explained on her Twitter the significance of the shoes to her. In her viral tweet, she used the shoes as an example of the hard work she put into campaigning.
Some folks are saying I won for “demographic” reasons.
1st of all, that’s false. We won w/voters of all kinds.
2nd, here’s my 1st pair of campaign shoes. I knocked doors until rainwater came through my soles.
Respect the hustle. We won bc we out-worked the competition. Period. pic.twitter.com/RbpQMYTiWY
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) June 29, 2018
“Here’s my 1st pair of campaign shoes,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I knocked doors until rainwater came through my soles. Respect the hustle. We won bc we out-worked the competition. Period.”
Curator of the exhibit, Prof. Denise Green, fiber science and apparel design, said Ocasio-Cortez’s shoes were a good representation of the 2018 Biennial theme, “Duration: Passage, Persistence, Survival,” and are unique to the exhibit since worn clothing items are not often displayed.
“In fashion exhibitions you almost never see a garment that is not pristine,” Green said. “The shoes are so beautiful in their own way in that they show these concepts that are apart of the CCA Biennial — the concepts of persistence, of duration, of survival. You can see time worn away on these shoes with hard work.”
As a member of the curatorial team, Jenny Leigh Du Puis grad said Ocasio-Cortez’s shoes came up as the team was thinking about examples of women in government and important fashion pieces.
In order to obtain the shoes, Green reached out to Ocasio-Cortez’s team. According to Green, Ocasio-Cortez glady loaned the shoes for the exhibit; however, she did not gift them to Cornell since they mean so much to her.
In addition to Ocasio-Cortez’s shoes, the exhibit will also feature items of clothing worn by other women throughout history. T-shirts from monumental occasions like the Stonewall Riots are also displayed. The entire collection will highlight approximately 17 pieces.
The inspiration for the exhibit, came from the “pussyhats” worn during the Women’s March. When the CCA called for submissions for the 2018 Biennial in January, Green said she “kept coming up with examples in my head of all these different ways women had used fashion in the past to create social change.”
“One of the things that fashion does that is really profound is that it allows you to display a message or an idea and visually you come into contact with people and you transform those people … through your appearance,” Green said.
Students in the graduate course entitled “Anthropology of the Fashion Body” taught by Green were tasked with curating the exhibit. Du Puis, a student in the class, said the class brainstormed “different spaces where women use fashion as a means of empowerment” and came up with five areas: the sports arena, the street, the stage, the academy and the government.
In an effort to provide representation of different types of women, the exhibit will also feature pussyhats sourced locally from women in Ithaca.
“We are just trying to make sure we have representation across the entire exhibit from the highest echelons of the Supreme Court all the way down to the everyday person,” Du Puis said. “We are trying to make sure we represent as many women as we can.”
The exhibit creates a unique blend of women’s history and Cornell history by highlighting many Cornell women and their accomplishments. Green herself had procured judicial collars worn by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 and an outfit worn by former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ’60, the clothing of two influential Cornell women in government, before formalizing the exhibit.
Martha Van Rensselaer, co-founder of the College of Human Ecology, is also represented among the fashion pieces. A dress that Rensselaer wore to Belgium after World War I to help rebuild libraries will be featured in the exhibit, according to Green.
“There is a whole range of interesting pieces and stories, and I think what we have done in this exhibit is to focus on women and the unique ways that each one has used fashion to uplift other women,” Green said.
The exhibit opens Dec. 6 with a reception at 5 p.m. on Level T of the Human Ecology Building, and the items will be on display until March 31.