The Fug Girls Talk Red Carpet Fashion
The red carpet is coming back, but where does commentary on celebrity fashion stand in this day and age?
I met Go Fug Yourself writers Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan when I was just starting my career for New York magazine as a party reporter around 2007. I covered a lot of fashion week events and New York was flying them in from Los Angeles to write about celebrities sitting front row at shows. I met them at a roof party (remember those?) at a hotel, I think in Gramercy, I think near a partition made of potted bushes. They finished each other’s sentences and I could have listened to them talk all night but I had to find celebrities to interview. I wish I could remember who — I want to say Madonna? — but maybe that was a different night. (Why would Madonna be at a fashion week party? Then again: why were any of us?) Heather and Jessica stand out in my memory of that night probably because they are, in addition to hilarious, kind and human, which wasn’t exactly what one expected to encounter when going alone to fashion events.
Go Fug Yourself began in blogging’s early years when snarky internet writing was new. This was pre-influencer, pre-Twitter, pre-Instagram, pre-shareable content. It was and remains for many readers like me a site you actually type(d) into your browser when you were at work during the day and wanted to escape and laugh. The conceit was brilliantly simple: write funny shit about what celebrities were wearing.
Now, nearly 20 years later, the internet has changed immeasurably but Go Fug Yourself continues with less snark but as much humor and wit as its earliest days. Heather and Jessica are also novelists, authors of The Royal We and The Heir Affair. I called them up to talk about the hopeful return of red carpet, the state of red-carpet discourse, and their next book. (This conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)
What were you both doing before Go Fug Yourself?
Heather: We were both working as story producers in reality TV. A lot of people had outlets for creative writing, like Live Journal. There was somebody writing a blog where he was pretending to be Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. So one day we were just blowing off steam at the mall, as you do in 2004, and looking at movie posters that we thought were just really questionably chosen and poorly styled, and not showing off the story or the actors to any kind of advantage. And that spilled over into looking at our Us Weeklys and being like, what is that person even wearing? And it grew into this – probably prematurely since we were in our twenties – but this cranky sort of, Oh, I guess that's the new trend is looking fugly is the new pretty. We started a blog just to sort of riff on it and see where it went. And this is where it went.
Jessica: When Twitter started, people would put their silly, funny, hot takes on Twitter, but there wasn't a Twitter in 2004.
What shows were you working on as reality story producers? What was that job like?
Jessica: I worked on a variety of shows from Growing up Gotti, which you might remember was about Victoria Gotti and her three children, to more proper documentary series. Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me had a show on FX called 30 Days where people would do things for 30 days. And a lot of other random stuff like For Love or Money 4.
Heather: We had both been freelance writing for a website called Mighty Big TV, which then became Television Without Pity. And it was the original TV recap site where you would go to read a funny and long recap. I was recapping Making the Band, and one of the producers, Ken Mok, found the recaps and was reading it. He's like, “I read your recaps and you seem to get how we put the show together. So if you can be out in LA, here's a job.” The job was [for] Tough Enough, a reality show on MTV about becoming a professional wrestler. Then Ken founded America's Next Top Model with Tyra Banks. I ended up doing a good chunk of the first eight seasons of that. And that was the point where we quit to make GFY our full-time job.
These reality TV jobs sound fun but are they?
Jessica: It is fun. You're watching raw footage, and back in that day, it was VHS tapes. You’d have at your desk stacks of tapes. And you'd be watching multi-camera coverage of different events and taking notes and figuring out like, Okay, we had three camera crews at that thing, did anyone catch the beginning of this fight? And sometimes you're just like, I've watched a tape of the girls taking a nap for half an hour.
In the early days of GFY, who were you writing about and what trends were you seeing?
Heather: We were only posting like once a day while we were procrastinating our actual day jobs, so it sort of just would be whatever crazy thing we found on Getty. I remember Kirsten Dunst promoting Spider Man, and it was one of the first times where you started to notice someone's fashion quirk. She had this one pair of shoes that she had in three or four different colors, and she wore them with every outfit on that press tour. They were like a pointy toe and they had kind of a diagonal along the top of her foot. It was the first time I sort of clicked into the business of it all in a very small way, where you're like, they figured out that she needs a couple of different pairs of these, that they're the ones that are comfortable and then was building outfits around them.
Jessica: She still does that. She just did a whole big thing at a recent film festival and she had the same pair of shoes in like two different colors she wore the whole time. I was like, She's still got it. This is her trick.
What else has changed since you guys started in 2004?
Jessica: I think anyone who has been blogging for that long has probably totally changed. We were certainly meaner in 2004. Everybody was on the internet, I think, including the stuff that I think we all used to write for The Cut [for New York magazine’s website]. We've really witnessed the birth of the stylist since 2004. In the past year or so when we didn't really have any red carpet at all, we started going through not just our archives, but like, oh, I'm going to look at the red carpet premiere for the Gary Oldman Dracula let's say, or stuff in the nineties. It's so fascinating to look at these things because really celebrities are just showing up in outfits they own. Now I think simply because there is so much more coverage of what people wear to premieres, people are so styled.
Heather: A lot of the discourse has sort of left turned into, “Oh, I wonder what the conversation was like with her stylist that day.” Like, “Gosh, The Rock's pants are suddenly getting really loose, I guess he and his stylist decided he's not wearing tight pants anymore.”
The pandemic is not over but red-carpet events that we were missing for a while seem to be coming back. We had the Met, we had Zendaya promoting Dune, Lady Gaga for House of Gucci. How would you characterize the landscape now?
Jessica: I think people are really ready to go back to quote-unquote normal. Like I really thought the Met Gala was going to be — not tiny, but I did think it was going to be more low-key than previous years, but it really wasn't.
Heather: People are maybe going big a little bit more often than they otherwise would. Like with the House of Gucci press tour, whether you love or you hate what Lady Gaga has been wearing, there is something about Lady Gaga being back, being Lady Gaga, wearing wild stuff, where like, thank God it's there because it's fun to talk about. And it's fun to have something that's fun to talk about.
I don't love what she's been wearing. Like, I love her and have for a long time — “Just Dance” was my ringtone when it came out. But now I'm like, Why don't I love these looks?
Jessica: I actually think she could have gone bigger. But I'm enjoying it. Jared Leto and the current Gucci line are a very good match, so that's been fun to watch. I also am just enjoying how the basic vibe of these premieres is, it's like Gaga and Jared Leto show up, looking, you know, like themselves. And then they're posing with Adam Driver in Burberry. And I made a joke on the site the other day where it sort of looks to me like, here's two rich art students and their accountant.
Heather: I don't like what [Lady Gaga]’s been wearing, but I also almost never love what she's wearing and I think that's kind of fine. It's so entertaining to dissect it or even just to look at it and be like, I don't really like that, but you do you, Lady Gaga.
Jessica: Some interesting conversations were being had over the last few years about whether people were going to want to see celebrities in giant expensive outfits. I'm sure there are people out there who are over it, but I thought then, and I still kind of think that sometimes people just want to see a movie star in a fancy outfit.
What is your response to the argument that famous women’s clothes shouldn’t be critiqued? I disagree, not only because I'm a fashion journalist, but also because a lot of famous women, from politicians to movie stars, use their clothes in a calculated way to brand themselves for business opportunities or to make a certain statement. So I do think it's something that is worth dissecting and talking about, especially since it’s also its own industry.
Jessica: I agree with you, obviously. I don't think that you should be posting a civilian at the market and making fun of their outfit. But I think when a celebrity is attending the Met Gala, this is an opportunity to discuss the styling choices they made, because as you pointed out, it's not just like, “Oh, I woke up and I just decided to wear this dress.” These are choices that have been made as part of a branding decision, usually with a huge team. Fashion is a massive business and it is also an art. Both of those things I think are allowed to be criticized. Or even just discussed. Discussion of something isn't necessarily a condemnation of it. I just think that expecting human beings to not have thought about celebrity outfits is unrealistic.
Heather: You’ve done it correctly when you're discussing the outfit and the presentation, and you're not knocking the body inside of it. It's also a very slippery slope to go, Well, a woman wrote that movie and directed that movie and women shouldn't critique the work of other women. But we should be able to critique film and TV and books. We wrote some stuff in The Heir Affair and The Royal We that was based on personal things that had happened to us – are people allowed to critique those books? Of course, and you should. I feel like it's sort of symptomatic of the larger problem that we're having, where people can't take criticism anymore and everyone's trying to dissuade criticism.
I think there's a difference between criticism and haterade, and it's an important distinction. Learning to take criticism is important, but also [having] a critical mind. It's like, Why do you watch that show if you hate it? And it's like, Well, it's not that I hate it, I have big problems with it. But it's actually kind of good for me to sit here and think through, What don't I like about this show? Is it the casting? Is it the way they're telling the story? There's things that I'm learning as a writer from what I don't respond to. And so I think criticism is so valuable and it's not always coming from a dark place but a curious place. To assume that all women sort of can't stand up to any of that either is also selling us short.
Where do you think we’re headed with award season coming up?
Heather: I don't know what's become of the Golden Globes because I think NBC has said they're not airing them. I think Critics' Choice is going to swoop in. Or maybe the Screen Actors Guild Awards is just going to move up. Everyone's figuring it out.
Jessica: It's our hot season, awards season. So it is very weird that the typical kickoff isn't going to happen. If someone picks up the Golden Globes and then there's a bunch of nominations, are the celebrities not going to show up? It'll be interesting.
Who are you guys enjoying watching now on the carpet, aside from Zendaya and Lady Gaga?
Jessica: We had a very fun conversation on the site recently where Rosamund Pike came out – I don't know if you've seen the recent Dior line where everyone is wearing like pilgrim caps? You see that go down the runway and you think, No one's going to wear the pilgrim cap, but she did. And it was such a hoot.
Heather: Elle Fanning has been out and about doing stuff for The Great. To the LACMA Gucci event, she wore this really dramatic black dress that she styled with dramatic vampy makeup that she wouldn't normally do. Then she turned around and wore a custom Versace that had like an embroidered Catherine the Great on the chest. So she's been doing a lot of fun stuff. And then of course there's good old reliable Rita Ora.
You’re going to do another book, right? Will you continue the story in The Heir Affair and The Royal We?
Jessica: No, our next book is definitely not going to be in The Royal We / Heir Affair group. I think Heather and I absolutely want to write something different.
Heather: I felt this way about the Sex and the City movie, where, so they could make a movie, they undid a bunch of stuff that was satisfying at the end of it. We did not want the second book to feel that way.
Jessica: It's hard to write a sequel to a romantic comedy. If you're not going to break up the couple, then what is their conflict? Trying to figure out a conflict that felt organic and interesting was complicated. And I honestly don't know if we could do it a third time without killing off one of our protagonists.
Heather: I am the Grim Reaper and I was constantly suggesting killing people off. And Jessica was like, “We can't do that.” And I was like, “I know.”
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