Feminism and fashion might not always seem like the perfect fit, but after checking out Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez’s eponymous site, you may come away with some new ideas. The seasoned bloggers’ thoughtful and delightfully snarky critiques of both fashion and fame are written with a feminist framing, challenging readers to look well beyond red-carpet glitz and glamour. With the release of their first book, Everyone Wants to Be Me or Do Me, and continued success of their site, I got a chance to dig deeper into the story of how they came to be fashion writers who let their feminist flags fly.
AVITAL NORMAN NATHMAN: I love how you guys write about fashion in such an accessible way.
TOM FITZGERALD: Thank you! So many of our readers say exactly that, and to hear that over and over again from people is unbelievably gratifying like you have no idea. We, of course love fashion; we always have, we always will. Part of the reason I think we are successful is [that] we offer an alternative to people, a way to talk about fashion apart from fashion magazines or a lot of fashion media. It is a very approachable, down-to-earth way of looking at it. We think…we hope.
Was there a moment when you two went from blogging about Project Runway to realizing you had…a brand?
TOM: That’s the story of our site right there. We started purely as a Project Runway fan blog, and never had aspirations beyond that. In fact, when Lorenzo came up with the idea for the blog, I didn’t want to do it! I finally relented, because he is relentless.
LORENZO MARQUEZ: A pusher!
TOM: First thing I said to him was, “Fine. Let’s do this. It will be fun. But get it out of your head that we’re going to find some audience or get famous or make money off of it.” I’m happy to have been wrong.
We started during Season 3 of Project Runway, and we always tell people that if you want blogger success, you have to latch onto a pop culture thing just as it reaches its height of popularity. Summer 2006—that was the year that Heidi and Tim were on the cover of every magazine. So we just happened to hit at a time when everyone was hungry for Project Runway material. Immediately, the people who showed up to read said, “What are you guys going to do when this season is over? You’re really funny.” So it became a question, literally within the first couple of weeks—what are we going to do?
And the entire history of our site is us struggling with that question. Everything we do on the site, we’ve asked ourselves before we started doing it: Is there a way [to do it] that makes it different from the way others are doing it? For instance, red carpet: Lorenzo wanted to do it very early on, and I said, Why would we do it when the Fug Girls do it so much better? But eventually we figured out a way where both sites are working the same block but different sides of the street. I always say the Fug Girls are your best girlfriend and we’re your best gay friends.
Let’s talk about that notion of the gay best friend, especially as it relates to fashion. Are you conscious of that stereotype at all when you write?
TOM: That is something we just had to plunge forward with when we were establishing our voice. It was like, “Are we taking part in some sort of gay minstrel show here?” But Lorenzo and I, this is what we talk about; this is who we are. There’s a certain voice that goes along with that. If you go back to earlier writings on the site, you’ll see us make the mistake [of assuming] that every “queen” out there is just like us. We’ve learned not to write like that anymore. When we do address our identity as gay men, I think you will see little allusions to the fact that we are a certain type of gay man, and that there are other types out there.
One of the keys ways you two are unique—is that you address social issues and feminism in a lot of your posts. You had that great post about gay identity and the Mad Men conspiracy theories about Bob Benson and the recent Emma Stone post was a perfect example of how you blend feminism and fashion in your commentary.
TOM: We are truly, truly, honored and pleased when someone notes a feminist undertone to our writing because it’s there deliberately. It’s not a mistake. When we went from being hobby bloggers to professional bloggers we had a long talk about goals, both short term and long term. Eventually it came up in our conversation that if you really want to be uncharitable about what we’re doing, we’re a couple of bitchy gay guys who criticize women all day about how they look. Which just stopped us dead in our tracks! That’s not who we want to be.
It was a very conscious decision early on to battle that perception, and to battle lapsing into that voice. Because I’ll tell you what—we’re a couple of white, privileged, gay men. And we had to be educated on the language to use, and how to approach certain topics and how to write about certain women in certain ways. Some of this came innately, some of this we taught ourselves, and some of this was taught to us by our readers. So, yes, there was a conscious effort from very early on to find a way to do this so we don’t feel dirty about this and feel unfeminist in our approach. How do you write about this stuff as men with a feminist tone?
One of the first things we decided [was that] we’re not going to criticize every woman on our site—roughly half of the posts will be complimentary. Also, we’re going to feature as many men as the site can handle. I wish [it could be] a 50/50 split, but the fact is we can have Jennifer Lawrence at the premiere of American Hustle and it’ll get X amount of hits. And we can have Bradley Cooper at the same premiere and it’ll get a quarter of the hits. It’s not because he’s not a movie star, it’s because people don’t care about men on the red carpet as much as they do women. But we push it! We push it as much as possible and feature as many men as possible. And we’re very, very hard on the men. And the reason we’re so hard on the men is to highlight the disparities. People will go to town on some lady because she didn’t get a pedicure, but they’ll forgive a ripped t-shirt, a pair of sneakers, and jeans sliding off some star’s ass because he’s cute!
I love when you take the men to task.
LORENZO: It’s very important! We want to feature them, and we want to change the communication if we can: We need to change the language and the approach that it’s okay to criticize women and not men. For decades men have worn jeans and a t-shirt and that’s okay. No! It’s not okay. They’re promoting a product just like the women, so they need to be judged just as much.
TOM: Held to the same standards!
The one thing I love specifically about your blog is that you’re snarky, but you’re not mean.
LORENZO: That’s the goal. It’s so nice when someone like you can see and tell the difference.
TOM: I think this goes back to that voice of your gay best friend outside the dressing room telling you how you look. That’s partially the voice we settled upon for the site. The other one was “gay guy in the cubicle next to you that you run to talk to the morning after the Oscars.” We didn’t pull these out of thin air—these are the guys we were when we worked in offices and shopped with our girlfriends. It’s our voice, but it’s a specific type of gay voice. There’s a reason we don’t advise “real women” on fashion. It’s better to stick to the realm of celebrity, because it’s a fantasy. When someone steps out on a red carpet, there’s almost a million dollars’ worth of free goods on her body for the night—the whole thing is a gigantic marketing screen with a ton of money behind it. So on that level, let’s go to town and bitch about what she’s wearing! We would never hold real people to the standards we hold celebrities doing promotional events.
LORENZO: There’s so much pressure put on men and women about what we wear or should wear. So the idea is not to put the person down, but to talk about their choices and what we think went wrong and right. That’s why we don’t make comments about their bodies or their weight or size or color.
That said, I do appreciate when you call out designers for not making more options available to women who wear larger than a size two.
TOM: It’s appalling to me that someone like Christina Hendricks—who is not anyone’s definition of a plus-size woman, or even someone with a “difficult” shape— can’t get designer wear for the red carpet. It’s utterly ridiculous. Then there’s somebody like Melissa McCarthy: There is no reason why designers shouldn’t be offering to custom make stuff for her when she’s walking major award-ceremony red carpets. But a lot of the time she’s on her own. I understand that fashion is aspiration, that it is fantasy. But it’s still bought by real people. It’s real people spending real dollars on it!
LORENZO: There’s a reason why Tadashi Shoji is doing so well.
TOM: He intentionally seeks out women of size and women of color [to dress]! We’re happy to feature that kind of designer on the site as much as possible.
There’s this idea that fashion and feminism, or fashion and social commentary, are incompatible, but you push back against that in lots of ways. For instance, I love seeing Laverne Cox pop up on the blog so much lately.
TOM: We’re making a point of featuring her, because when do you get a chance to feature a trans woman on the red carpet who is actually a celebrity? We actually do look for topics that have a wide range to them. If we scroll down the front page of the site at the end of the day and see nothing but 22-year-old, blond, white size 2’s, we feel like we have failed. So when someone like Laverne comes along, who’s on a show that we absolutely love and who is starting to become a celebrity in her own right, and dresses pretty damn impressively—on top of which, she’s a transgender woman of color—how could we not feature this woman?
LORENZO: Fashion is so subjective. We do feel the need and responsibility to show people through our eyes and our site that there’s not just one type of fashion or one type of beauty out there. There are so many different types of beauty and ways to express it.
TOM: Do you the very best you! That’s our take on style and we hope it comes across. Fashion can be feminist, but you’re not going to find it on the pages of Vogue. That’s not what Vogue is for. I think you have to look to alternative media to find feminist takes on fashion. There are plenty of people out there who are writing about fashion and how it affects women and what that means for women. It can be done. We’re happy and honored to be considered a part of that.