Legendary fashion site Go Fug Yourself has done what very few sites in the entertainment space managed to do— continue to grow and adapt with readers for nearly 20 years. In a world where quick captions and those picture perfect Insta squares compete for our attention, this is no easy feat. Creators Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan chat career longevity, working with your friends, celeb encounters, and how their role as content creators continues to evolve. —Mahsa Di Placito
Hello Heather and Jessica! Tell us about yourselves and what you do.
HC: Jessica and I are the co-founders and writers of a fashion blog, Go Fug Yourself, which was coined based on the slang term “fugly” (we sanitized the contraction in our first FAQ to “fantastically ugly,” because apparently you’re never too old to keep your parents in mind). We take what we hope is a humorous, but not cruel, look at red-carpet fashions—some of which are good, but many of which are puzzling. My personal background is in journalism and then reality TV, but we were able to make our website a full-time job in 2006 and we haven’t looked back.
JM: We are also the authors of four novels: a young adult duology, Spoiled and Messy, and two works of contemporary women’s fiction, The Royal We and its sequel The Heir Affair. We’ve also done a fair amount of freelance fashion and celeb writing over the last several years, most regularly for New York magazine, and Cosmopolitan.
The Internet has changed so much since you launched GFY in 2004. How we consume media, the introduction of social media, and a general sense of being more responsible with what we read and share online. How do you feel your site has grown with your readership?
HC: In terms of GFY’s own evolution, I always say, and I know it’s boring of me to repeat it, but: I don’t need to or want to be the same person online at 44 than I was at 24. And I think a lot of our readership is the same way. I’m sure some people wish for things to be as no-holds-barred as Internet humor was back in 2004 and 2005, but honestly, back then the idea that you could build a blog and have it take off was so new. Nobody had a sense of online responsibility. Nobody was thinking about anything other than feeding the beast and giving people what they seemed to want, whereas now, people are ever more aware that you can still try and serve your main objective—being funny—without being a complete insensitive jerk. That’s not an evolution that ever ends, by the way. It’s ongoing. It’s maturation. We’ve done that maturation in front of our readers, sometimes slower than they’d probably like, often slower than we would like, but I think most of them have been on that journey and trust that we are sincere when we say we care about this stuff.
JM: We’ve also branched out from simply quote-unquote bad celebrity fashion into covering the red carpets more generally, including stuff we think is great. We also run more open discussion posts to enable our readership to have more general conversations about things, like recipes, vacations, bad first date stories—stuff folks like to sit around and kibitz about with their friends.
HC: Yes, and we cover some TV shows people like to talk about. The Sex and the City reboot/sequel, Outlander. Jess’s Gilded Age recaps were really popular.
Do you find the majority of your readers are those that were there from the early days, or are new readers still finding your site (or a mix of both!?)
HC: We definitely have a core of readers who are from Olden Times, and a lot of regulars in general. And plenty of folks who drift in and out, or leave for six months and then are like, “Oh, right, it’s the Met Gala, I’ll poke around GFY again,” and then they stick around. Hopefully we’re getting new folks in, too. It’s hard to compete with TikTok and other, hipper forms of social media, so getting into someone’s daily diet is tricky and falling out if it is pretty easy.
JM: Yeah, I don’t know how much real concrete data we have on this—we certainly have lots of people who check in very regularly, and then folks who pop in after a big event to see what’s happening. We are thrilled to have them all!
On that note, how have you kept your site feeling fresh and relevant nearly 20 years in?
HC: Some might say we haven’t! There is a point where I can’t pretend to be something I am not, and so I can’t come to GFY one day and act like I am still the same age I was when we started, and still the same level of aware about the incoming generation of starlets and singers and such. I can’t pretend to know who all the young whippersnappers are, or the TikTokkers, or the YouTubers. I tend to wait on them, because the ones who have staying power will end up on more major red carpets—like Emma Chamberlain at the Met Gala for example, or Addison Rae crossing into movies a bit, or whatever the D’Amelio sisters are up to. Once they cross over, I feel like I have the brain space to devote to it. But I can’t pretend to be 25 again. I’m certain my age shows in the way I write now. And that’s okay. I do not need to give myself online Botox! I am almost 45 and I’m good with that.
JM: Yeah, I mean, after 20 years you certainly will think to yourself, “I have surely said all I can about this particular fashion trend.” And it’s probably true! I do think this has meant that I have developed a huge appreciation for celebrities who truly do swing for the fences and wear honestly wild items—it feels thrilling to have something new to react to. As far as relevancy goes … I tend to think at this point that we’re old friends for many of our readers, and having that kind of relationship with your readership means, hopefully, that you will continue to have relevance in their Work Time Procrastination Routine, if nothing else!
You’ve had both a professional and personal relationship for nearly 20 years. What key piece of advice would you give to friends who want to go into business together?
HC: It helps to know each other very, very well. With casual friends or acquaintances, you might not know as much about how you each handle disagreements or setbacks—or, God forbid, finances—and that’s when you might run up against some walls. We were very good friends already and had even already worked together in a different setting, so there weren’t any weird shocks. That said, of course this has made us that much closer and know each other that much better, and we’re extremely fortunate that it’s been a happy marriage. For me, it’s that I know our friendship is the most important thing to me. I cannot imagine Jessica not being in my life, or my kids’ lives, and frankly they love their Auntie Jess and might never speak to me again if I were to risk that. But if I have to choose between walking away from GFY and finding another job, and losing my lifelong friend, it’s not a contest. With that in mind, it shapes how we handle discussions about the work. I want her to be happy and fulfilled. I want her to have days off. I want her to enjoy working on whatever book we write. She’s the same with me. It means we take great care with the professional decisions we make, which is never a bad thing. We don’t leap.
JM: Yeah, I think you need to think about it like a marriage, and how your respective personalities will really play off each other on a day-to-day basis, and when your financial future is involved. We all have friends who we love to go drinking with and find very fun and entertaining, for example, but who would not necessarily be the best person to hitch your professional wagon to, for a variety of reasons. You also need to remember that when you are in business with your friend, you will never again be able to socialize with them without work popping up at least a little bit. This is fine for us—I think we’re pretty good at not letting it bleed into ALL of our friend time, but it is pretty unavoidable, and if you are a person who really, really values a hard line between work and personal, you should think about that carefully.
What aspect of Go Fug Yourself are you most proud of?
HC: Probably that it’s still here! For two people who started this without a business plan, that’s pretty wild. But honestly, one big thing for me is our community. I cannot say enough how fortunate I feel that we have all of these people in our lives. Fug Nation. We want to keep making them proud, because the quality of the comments section is one of the things we tout the most about the experience of reading our site. They may get irritated with us sometimes, or bored with us, but that’s how families do. At the end of the day, we’ve got each other. Every so often, people will pop into the comments and admit something difficult they’re going through, and I get teary-eyed seeing how Fug Nation rises up to hold them. When my dad died, people donated to the Autism charity in his obituary, for crying out loud. Fug Nation is awesome.
JM: That is my answer, too!
You must get asked about celebrities all the time! Do you have a favourite celeb encounter? Who have been the standouts/most fun to cover over the years?
HC: I really enjoyed when Celine Dion emerged from her cocoon of grief as a fashion-crazy butterfly. She hired Law Roach and she spent the summer wearing THE wackiest, highest-fashion stuff all around Paris, and it was amazing. (She did a second year of it but without him. He gave her the wings, and she flew.) It’s fun when someone decides to reset their image and just give in and have fun with it. Because to the rest of us, it seems like it SHOULD be fun. If I were rich and famous, it would be a total gas to swan in and out of my hotel in giant sunglasses and crazy outfits and blow kisses to them from next to my limo. Go big, don’t go home! So I love covering the people who fearlessly go big, even when it’s heinous. Maybe especially when it’s heinous. As far as personal encounters, we don’t have many, which is probably for the best. But we covered New York Fashion Week for New York magazine, and for Cosmo, for about a decade, and that was a fertile time for good memories and good stories. I got to interview Kanye once at a Rodarte show. Most celebs that are as famous as he is would arrive late on purpose, to avoid an interview, or just have a huge impenetrable entourage. But he was just milling around before it started, standing there by himself. I saw another journalist talk to him. When he was done, I went up to Kanye and politely introduced myself and my affiliation, and we had a five- or 10-minute chat that yielded a great piece. Of course, every show after that, he had people around him and didn’t do many interviews after that, so I assume somebody saw him be so available and was like, “GET KANYE AN ENTOURAGE.” I quite liked that it hadn’t occurred to him to arrive with one.
JM: Yes, NYFW was extremely fun and entertaining—the best people watching. Martha Stewart once very firmly informed me I needed to learn how to roast a chicken. She was correct!
During the pandemic, events were completely shut down, nobody left their house, and we were all rockin’ sweats. So many businesses had to pivot to survive, and yours was no exception. How did you manage covering red carpet style during a pandemic when there was no red carpet in site?
HC: We revisited the classics! It started with recalling the occasional big hit, like a see-through dress on Kate Moss, or Celine Dion’s backward tux, stuff like that. Then it became anniversaries of movie premieres, or celebrating a star’s birthday with a big style retrospective. When the 2020 Met Gala was cancelled, we devoted that week to looking back at all the Met Galas in history. Never once did it occur to me to think, “What if we need to save some of this for next year?” Which, of course, come May 2021 … sigh. But the deep dives and the classic photos have been really fun, and we still occasionally do them.
JM: It was a bit stressful (on top of everything else, of course)! I really didn’t think it would go on as long as it did—who did? Luckily, there are about 100 years of red-carpet photography in the can, so we had plenty we could dig out from the archives. It’s a relief to have current events to go back to now, though, and ideally balance the two.
As mentioned, you’ve written several books together; are there sequels in the works? What’s next for the Fug Girls?
HC: Hopefully, GFY will be on your computer screens for years to come. Certainly people will never stop wearing things … although, with the sheer trend lasting as long as it has, I suppose maybe that’s the next frontier. I think we left our characters in the right place after The Heir Affair, but never say never. We’d both like to write other stories, so we’re actively pitching each other on what we can do next. And I’m about to move back to the U.S., so I might be a total disaster in the next few weeks—which means Jessica deserves a big vacation and I’m going to lobby her to take one. We were so closed off for so long, and scrambling to keep our day job alive, that it’d be nice for us each to stand up from our desks and look around, and rest our typing fingers. I’ve gotten to do a little of that and now it’s her turn. GFY can keep going because there’s enough new content to keep us afloat, but we each need a brain spa, or something, so we can dive back into the books with relish.
Mahsa Di Placito is host of pop culture podcast Have You Heard About. Listen to Heather and Jessica’s full interview here.