Fashion Magazines

Women the  world  over look  to fashion magazines to guide  them  in their  clothing,  accessories, and  makeup choices. Illustrated periodicals related  to  fashion and  style began  to circulate soon  after the invention of the movable type press  in the 15th  century. Part gossip, part news, clothing was not  the main  focus  of these pamphlets, but  it was an important component that  attracted women seeking  to emulate the styles of the upper classes. By the 17th  and 18th  centuries, pamphlets depicting court fashions were common throughout France. It would  not  be until the  mid  19th  century that  magazines devoted to  fashion appeared. Early  fashion magazines depicted haute couture coming out  of Paris with illustrated plates. Some  of the finest magazines featured hand-tinted lithographs. The  drawback of this  was twofold, however:  First,  the  magazines took  time  to produce and  even longer  to  distribute, often  coming to  subscribers several  months or  even  years after  the  fashion originated. Second, the  illustrations showed the  ideal fashionable  silhouette, often   depicting anatomically impossible bodies. Early  fashion magazines were  published in gazette  style as an  inexpensive weekly newspaper. Colored plates  could  be  included or  could  be  purchased at an  additional cost. Early catalogs  also doubled as fashion magazines, advertising the latest styles and trends and detailing textiles, trims,  and accessories.

The 19th Century

Some  of the  best  known fashion magazines of the  19th  century come  from  the United States. Being so far removed from Paris, fashionable American women were desperate to find  out  about the  latest  styles; Godey’s Lady’s Book was established in 1830  to fill that  need.  In addition to fashion illustrations, Godey’s Lady’s Book included poetry  and current events articles  as well as sheet  music  and patterns for needlework designs  and  clothing. Many  thought that  this  magazine would  not last to the  end  of its first year, but  it continued to be a popular monthly source for  fashion and  other information for American woman until  it stopped being published in 1878.  Godey’s Lady’s Book was especially  influential in the American South during the Civil War when  the Confederate states  were blockaded and  cut off from  the  rest  of the  world.  Women were known to walk miles  to a friend  or relative’s house to look at an issue of Godey’s that  was many  months out  of date.

Harper’s Bazaar

Harper’s Bazaar was the  first American magazine devoted specifically  to fashion. It debuted in 1867  as a weekly gazette  with a mix of fashion illustrations, colored plates,  and  reports on  what  society’s  elite was wearing.  In 1901,  Harper’s Bazaar moved  to  a monthly magazine style. Early  issues  prominently featured the  designs  of Charles Fredrick Worth, an English designer working in Paris  who  has been  called the father  of haute couture. Paul Poiret,  another extremely influential designer in the  late 19th  and  early 20th  centuries, knew  the  value of the American  customer and  appeared regularly  in  Harper’s Bazaar and  an  upstart magazine called Vogue. Harper’s Bazaar is still being  published today  and  is still ranked among one  of the  best fashion magazines in the  world.  It is not  only available in the  United States,  but  rather has  sister  titles  published throughout the  world  in such  expectedly fashionable places  like the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and  Latin  America;  at the  same  time,  the  magazine publishes native language versions in countries not  known for being  at the forefront of style such as Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, and the Czech  Republic.


Vogue is the  single  best-known fashion magazine title  in  the  world.  It was first produced as a weekly gazette  in 1892. Originally, Vogue was akin to Godey’s Lady’s Book in that  it contained not  only fashion information and illustrations but  book, theater, art, and music  reviews, tips on etiquette, and reports on society. Like other magazines of the  time, Vogue included clothing patterns and  patterns for needlework  and  other handicrafts. But unlike many  other gazettes,  Vogue also included information about men  and children’s clothing, as well as reports on ready-made clothing found in various  shops and tips for budget-minded consumers. In 1909, 17 years after the initial publication, Vogue was bought by Condé Montrose Nast, a lawyer and publicist from St. Louis, Missouri. Although Vogue was still successful, despite being neglected by the previous owners, Nast  sought to create a magazine  that  would  be the  premier source for fashion and  society  news.  In today’s market, Vogue, and  its Web  presence, is the  most  trusted source for fashion, but  also  has  a strong impact  on  journalism and  culture in general. Vogue is published around the  world  and  includes many  imprints such  as Teen Vogue, British Vogue, Vogue China, and Vogue Italia, along with versions for Australia, Portugal, Japan,  Switzerland, Mexico,  Russia,  and  many  others. Vogue also offers men’s magazines: Men’s Vogue in the  United States,  Vogue Hommes International out  of Paris, and  L’uomo Vogue in Italy. Vogue produces home and  decorative style versions of its magazine. Vogue Patterns is no longer  owned  by the parent company, but  is licensed to Butterick, which  once  ran  its own fashion magazine called The Delineator: A Journal of Fashion, Culture, and Fine Arts, published from 1873–1937.

Lasting Trends

As fashion magazines began  to crop  up all over, various  titles sought to establish themselves in their  own niche. Vogue made  itself fashion forward  and avant-garde, often  employing highly  artistic  and  often  scandalous photo layouts. The  photography  of Annie  Leibovitz  is renowned for being beautiful and sensational. Other magazines have not  been  so lucky. Former Vogue editor  Grace  Mirabella founded her  own  fashion magazine called Mirabella. It was intended to be a less opulent, less elitist magazine targeted toward the average smart  woman. Lasting  from 1989 until  2000,  Mirabella lost  ground to other titles  such  as Elle, which  targeted the same  demographic and  was  published by the  same  parent company. With  the launch of Oprah Winfrey’s  O magazine, Mirabella officially ceased  production. Before closing,  Mirabella had suffered  a loss of consumer confidence and became the target  of media  ridicule.

Elle, on  the  other hand, took  a more  lighthearted approach to  fashion and style, but  without seeming frivolous. Focusing on college-aged and  young  career women with attention not  only to fashion but  also to health and  entertainment, Elle secured its niche. Begun  in Paris in 1945, Elle was a breath of fresh air for the war-ravaged country and  ordinary women were  drawn  to  it. Elle expanded into an American production in 1985,  with native-language versions in Brazil, China, Korea, Norway, Italy, and  many  other countries. In today’s market, Elle is considered second only to Vogue.

Like Mirabella, Mademoiselle began  to lose its edge in the 21st century. Founded in  1935,  Mademoiselle featured short stories  and  articles  as well as fashion, but it was not  able  to keep  up  with  the  ever-changing youthful style and  shuttered production in  2001.  The  employees and  features were  absorbed by Glamour, a title published by Vogue’s Condé Nast.  Glamour focuses  not  only on  fashion and makeup, but  also  on  celebrity  style and  news.  Marie Claire is experiencing a renaissance of interest among young  customers. With  a focus  on lifestyle as well as fashion, this publication is gaining  a larger following  among college-aged women who want a magazine that  speaks  to them  and does not  take itself too seriously.

The  merging of lifestyle and  fashion is a major  trend in women’s magazines. Cosmopolitan is the  best  known of these  hybrids, offering  health tips, high  fashion layouts, and  sexual  advice. Cosmopolitan is owned  by the  Hearst Corporation, the  same  parent company as Redbook, Marie Claire, Town and Country, Good Housekeeping, and  Harper’s Bazaar. Each  of these  titles covers  a separate age group and interest market, tackling topics  as diverse as high  fashion and  homemaking. Very small niche  magazines are also popular, such  as FRUiTS,  which  solely covers  the youth style in the Harajuku district of Japan. Oprah Winfrey’s O strives to recreate her television show  in print, where  she talks about health, celebrity  news, current events,  and  style, and  to reach  a diverse  market of women young  and  old, single and married, career women and homemakers. This  broad  appeal  makes  O unique in the fashion magazine world, but its connection to an international icon creates an  almost  entirely  new  subgenre. No  other magazine has  managed to incorporate all of these  elements into one successful magazine. Without Oprah Winfrey’s driving  force, it might  not  be possible.

The  new frontier of all magazines, fashion or otherwise, is the Internet. Companies  are faced with the  dilemma of how  to allocate  money, features, and  other resources between their print  and online divisions. All major  magazines have Web sites  to support their  product and  promote subscriptions. Many  magazines also carry  blogs  and  special  features not  available  in  the  magazine. Subscribers are often  given special  access  to these  features, to help  bridge  the  audience gap between  magazine subscribers and  those  interested in online content. To  keep  an edge in an ever-changing market, fashion magazines need  to be able to compete in an online arena.

When fashion magazines first became available, information could take months or even years to reach  the consumer. In the 21st century, fashion information can be instantaneously uploaded to a blog, a Web site, or YouTube. Before the fashion show  is even  over, images  of the  first pieces  can  be seen  and  commented on  by millions. Many  popular magazines that  have  lost  revenue and  closed  since  the turn of the  21st  century have  failed because they  could  not  negotiate the  ever-changing face of the  fashion magazine market. Only  those  publications that  can stay nimble and current and navigate  this new fashion world will succeed.

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