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 Women were known to walk miles to a friend or relative’s house to look at an issue of Godey’s that was many months out of date.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 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 www.style.com, 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.
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.