History of Fashion Magazines

As the enormous September issues of the best and biggest fashion magazines come out, you might be wondering how this whole fashion magazine business got started. Well, the earliest version of the fashion magazine came out in the 1870’s in response to changes in society’s view of women and the middle class’ new and greater access to printed material. These first magazines featured lots of eye-catching images of women taking part in the public world- riding trains, eating at cafes, taking walks in the park, or otherwise acting like today’s women do.


Harper’s Bazaar is perhaps the oldest still-running fashion

magazine, as it was first published in America in 1867

One of the purposes of these magazines was to show women what was in fashion and allow them to style their homes and selves based on that. Previously, many women could only find out what was on-trend by visiting the homes and businesses of their richer and more elite friends. With the invention of fashion magazines, however, someone who had never previously had access to the latest trends could see what they were and then emulate them to the best of her ability.

And even if she couldn’t afford all the luxuries she read about, she could at least dream of having them- just like many women do today! This attitude gave birth to a consumer culture especially for women, as their increased levels of economic freedom and opportunity made it so that they could decide for themselves what to purchase.  Also, back then, fashion was more than an expression of one’s personality. It was a tool women would use to announce their family’s status in social circles. Keeping one’s clothes up-to-date was one of the best ways a woman could communicate her family’s wealth.


As the fashion movement grew, stylish clothes became available to less elite people through department stores like Selfridges, Lord and Taylor’s and Macy’s. Because of this increased availability of stylish clothes, women didn’t have to just sit in their homes and live vicariously through their magazines; they could go out and live bits and pieces of a dream life out in the world.


Though the fantasy of beauty and independence was definitely positive and empowering for a lot of women, fashion magazines still pushed the idea that women had to dress to please men. They also pushed the idea that you could attain the perfect lives they described by purchasing the items they offered.

However, they remained immensely popular, and, by the 1920’s, were featuring articles about women’s rights and suffrage alongside beautiful pictures and illustrations. This solidified fashion magazines’ place as a thing women enjoy and can take power from. Fashion magazines continued to develop quickly from there, as they catered to new target audiences and added new products to their pages.



By the 30’s, GQ and Esquire went into print and built the niche of men’s fashion magazines.



In the 40’s, American fashion magazines began covering professional and industrial workwear.

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In the 70’s, magazines began to feature more ads for cosmetics and perfumes.



Fashion magazines’ hold on the industry began to waver when television became popular, as people had only to turn on their TV’s to see the latest trends; they no longer had to buy a new magazine once a month. Fashion magazines’ reign has been further threatened by the internet, as it’s so easy and inexpensive to have fashion advice at the click of a button. To keep up, most magazine companies have established huge online presences to compete with the high demand in a quickly changing fashion world.


Whatever ends up happening, we can be sure that the Utopian worlds of fashion will continue to enthrall us for as long we can appreciate or envy beautiful things.

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Written by: Rachel Manning

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