Doja Cat’s Inferno: When Did The Red Carpet Get So Ugly?

Doja Cat left people stunned at Paris Fashion Week, and not necessarily in a good way. Her head-to-toe red look specifically garnered over 3.2 million likes on Instagram, one of her most viral posts to date.

By Alina Clough3 min read
Cover Image (55)

The singer covered herself in red paint and Swarovski crystals, a process that took nearly five hours to result in a demonic version of Avatar. Though she called the final look “a magical, mesmerizing masterpiece of sparkling brilliance,” many found it off-putting, with some even saying it triggered their trypophobia.

From Angels to Demons

The hellish look was meant to be topical for the show, which was themed after Dante Aleghieri’s Inferno, an epic poem about a journey through hell. Kylie Jenner pulled off a far more feminine interpretation of the theme in her faux lion’s head gown, which was intended to be a reference to the poem’s “three beasts,” a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf commonly thought to represent the sins of lust, pride, and avarice, respectively. Though Jenner ended up with a barrage of misguided animal cruelty complaints, her look managed to thread the needle of bizarre but beautiful, showing off sleek hair, understated makeup, and a classy black Schiaparelli gown.

It’s no accident that the most talked about looks of Paris Fashion Week were the ones designed for social media virality. Whether aiming for something visually striking like head-to-toe red paint or meme-worthy like carrying around a lion’s head, designers in the Insta age know that the bizarre is more click-worthy than the beautiful. Still, the relatively recent history of ugly outfits runs deeper than just click rates.

This theme and the looks it inspired come just two years after the cancelation of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, one which iconically featured the VS “Angels,” supermodels with aspirationally sexy and feminine looks. The show was canceled for its “lack of cultural relevance” after complaints about its non-inclusive branding, marking a clear juncture in what fashion shows and the women in them mean to us. While it’s fair to critique the former show’s overt sexuality, that, importantly, was never the reason for its cancellation. The brand didn’t ditch lingerie, just the aspirational beauty of the women modeling it. Fashion, it seems, whether runway or red carpet, is evolving from being a source of inspiration for beauty into a medium for increasingly explicit cultural commentary.


Shock and Awe, Sound and Fury

Doja Cat isn’t the first to experiment with odd and ugly statement outfits. Kim Kardashian’s infamous Balenciaga “black outfit” at the 2021 Met Gala made her a shadow in the spotlight, with most fans speculating it was a publicity stunt to promote Kanye’s latest album. Kim herself never actually specified her intentions, leaving the stunt open to interpretation, though she did eventually condemn (without fully severing ties, however) Balenciaga’s 2022 ad campaign that she said “normalized child abuse.”

If there were a predecessor to Kim’s approach to red carpet fashion, it was Lady Gaga’s meat dress. The dress, shoes, and hairpiece she wore to the 2010 VMAs had “many interpretations” she said. After being confronted about whether it was intended to be anti-vegan, Gaga eventually stated that it had to do with gay rights. “For me this evening, it’s [saying], ‘If we don’t stand up for what we believe in, if we don’t fight for our rights,” she told reporters, “pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones.” Later, in a related meat-outfit photoshoot for Vogue, she changed her mind, saying the purpose was about women’s empowerment, stating, “I am not a piece of meat.” 

Both looks represent cases of modern art in the sense that they’re meant to wave off the need for objective truth and be open to anyone’s interpretation. The openness to interpretation coupled with the striking (and, in Gaga’s case, unpleasant) visuals of the outfits made them prime material for social media sharing. Gaga and Kim K each used this limelight to make statements, not about their beauty but about vague causes.

Did Beauty Wander off the Red Carpet?

It wasn’t always this way. Red carpet looks for the biggest stars used to be focused on, well, beauty. Superstars of yesteryear like Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly knew how to make a statement with rather than in spite of their feminine qualities. They didn’t sacrifice impact or sex appeal, they just aimed to still look like themselves by the time the stylist was done. The feminine glam they brought to the red carpet wasn’t just about throwing on a dress and being done with it; it was about showing up to an event as a woman, not an object to be interpreted.

Still, there are plenty of stars left who embrace their femininity. Sometimes stars miss the mark, confusing beauty with plain old nakedness, but classic beauty is still here to stay even if it doesn’t go as viral on Instagram feeds. Stars like Hailey Bieber, Zendaya, and the Hadid sisters all regularly step out in long dresses with striking cuts and unique flares. Plenty of women still embrace their beauty, even if they might not garner the same attention as some of the puzzling styles that share the red carpet.

Closing Thoughts

Art reflects life, and fashion is no exception. The trend of turning women into walking clickbait is likely here to stay, at least as long as Hollywood values clicks and virtue signaling over femininity. Still, it’s important to support the women still embracing elegance. No matter how much vagueness and ugliness the world produces, women should always aspire to truth and beauty.

Don’t miss anything! Sign up for our weekly newsletter and get curated content weekly!