To be absolutely truthful, I am still divided about fashion magazines. Having worked at a few publications, I appreciate the process and hard work that many writers and stylists put into creating great copy and images that capture the imagination and infuse fantasy into ordinary life. That said, fashion magazines predominantly deal with the image we portray to the world, and whether it’s the statement jacket or the shade of blusher you should possess immediately, it’s clear that explorations about fashion or beauty never get too deep. Throw the need to satisfy advertisers into the mix, and what you get is a viewpoint that can often be less than objective. Interestingly enough, fashion magazines are the site of the timeless tussle between art and commerce, and I think what differentiates a good magazine from a great one is how well they accept and navigate this tension.
So can fashion magazines deliver gravitas? I believe they can, just as Basu does. As she argues, fashion magazines have evolved to tackle serious events and exist alongside “the next feathered, ruffled creation.” She also contends that they celebrate different genres of style, make fashion more attainable to the public, and also help to promote important social movements such as feminism, helping fashion become “a modern political force, [exerting] itself through the images and text in the pages of today’s fashion magazine.”
These are all certainly true, and I think that fashion magazines, especially the UK versions of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and ELLE reflect a good balance of fashion and current affairs. Nonetheless, they are businesses, and ultimately, they do need to push products and deliver plenty of glamour and promises of transformation in order to be viable. If one examines big fashion publications, the main selling point remains the all-important visuals provided by well-styled clothes even if journalistic pieces pertaining to politics and culture are featured. However, I think that this is a matter of perpetuating a tried-and-tested model, and I believe that as global readership becomes more sophisticated, there is room to change up the formula even further. Of course, economic theory would suggest that supply should always meet demand, but I think that magazines can push the envelope a bit further and offer more serious content that creates a demand for it without affecting bottom lines. Maybe it requires taking a more conceptual approach to styling or a willingness to expose the reader to fashion’s other functions in addition to decoration, much like how indie outfits such as SHOWstudio, The Gentlewoman or AnOther do it. In other words, it requires fashion magazines to be unafraid of making readers think a bit more while still offering a satisfactory visual experience.
Of course, it can also be argued that there was never an expectation for fashion to be serious, but while I agree that part of the fun about fashion is how frivolous it can be, the existing model of most mainstream fashion magazines perpetuate excessive consumerism and unrealistic expectations about women’s appearance that can be detrimental in the long run. While I think a drastic shift to the conceptual extreme would be ill-advised, I think a slight shift would make a big difference in refreshing the medium and retaining its vitality.
Spread from a 1915 issue of McCall’s magazine from The Atlantic