The History of the Fashion Magazine

by Patricia Sarkar 2 years ago in industry

Everything that has a present has past, including the emergence of fashion publications. If you're curious about what the history of the fashion magazine really is, read on.

The History of the Fashion Magazine

For better or for worse, we’re currently living in a time when people are not reading books and magazines as much as they used to. Not because they aren’t still interested in getting as much information as possible, but because the internet has become their preferred go-to source. Because of the World Wide Web, info is immediate. Updates are made instantaneously. Plus, unlike books and magazines, access to what we need to know is free of charge.

If there is one exception that’s consistently made when it comes to shelling out a couple of bucks in order to literally turn a page or two, it would have to be when it comes to fashion magazines. Whether it’s Elle, Vogue, Glamour, Marie Claire, GQ, or an international publication (you can never go wrong with those!), there is something about being able to hold the images of the fashions in our hands that makes us not settle for only fashion blogs and online articles. Fashion photography coffee table books have also seen a rise in popularity.

Fashion magazines are awesome, as fashion makes a statement. But have you ever wondered what the history of the fashion magazine actually is?

In about 5–7 minutes (give or take a minute), we’ll give you a quick run-through.

Where the History of the Fashion Magazine Began

Believe it or not, fashion magazines have been around ever since the Elizabethan age; however, it might surprise you where these kinds of publications actually got their start.

Back in the 1600s, The Treasure of Hidden Secrets was a publication that was created for “honest matrons and virtuous virgins.” It provided tips on things like how to avoid plagues.

Luckily, things transitioned and evolved from those kinds of topics. During the reign of Queen Anne, there were women’s diaries, gazettes, and small pocket pamphlets that started to cause quite a buzz. Gender in the fashion industry overall has always been female-centric.

It wasn’t until 1732 that the actual word “magazine” was introduced (thanks to bookseller Edward Cave). It was under the reign of Louis XIV in France when the term “fashion magazine” made its initial emergence. The fashion publication was called The Mercure Galant and featured illustrated fashion plates of what the aristocracy was wearing. This made it possible for dressmakers who lived outside of the court to have an idea of what was “trending” in royal fashion.

The invention of department stores led to more women's magazines.

As more publications came onto the scene, initially, the titles were almost as long as the articles themselves. Take The Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, for Their Use and Entertainment, for example (whew, that’s a mouthful!). The good news is they did contain some fashion pages and sometimes even illustrations by William Blake.

However, it wasn’t until around the 18th century, the Georgian era, when fashion magazines really began to take off. That’s because retail therapy started to make a real mark, thanks to the invention of what we now know to be the department store. At this point, women were able to see images of ladies like them who were involved in everyday leisure pursuits, although most of the focus was on fashions that were pleasing to men since a lot of the social status of women surrounded representing the home which consisted of a one-income family (a man’s financial status).

When did this start to change? Good question.

"Baby Steps" = Big Change

In 1886, famed poet and playwright Oscar Wilde edited the publication The Ladies World and decided to change the name to Women’s World (baby steps). Then, in 1891, a fashion periodical by the name of Forget Me Not came onto the scene. It focused on the working-class woman.

It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century where some real headway was made. Thanks to the advances in technology, fashion plates transitioned into photographs and movements in social change provided women with more of a voice and platform in print and in life.

The Continual Need for Fashion Magazines

As technology continues to evolve and the issues that matter to women continue to expand, you might wonder if the need for fashion magazines will still exist in the decades to come. The short answer is as long as fashion exists and women care about it, yes. (And we don’t see that changing any time soon.)

But if you’re looking for a more detailed answer, a couple of years ago, The Atlantic did a great feature on this very topic. In “Why Fashion Magazines Matter,” the article touched on the history of the fashion magazine along with the relevance that it continues to hold.

The author of the article shared this very valid point:

“Fashion magazines have highlighted problems with society that have often been ignored by the mainstream media, whether it be working conditions for the mothers around the world or pay discrepancies between females and their male counterparts. In many ways, they've become driving forces in the 21st-century feminism movement.”

The argument alone reminds us that it’s important to know the history of fashion magazines because it’s about so much more than what we put on our bodies. These publications have played a powerful role in allowing women’s voices to be heard on a variety of issues where, otherwise, they may have been silenced.

Fashion Magazines: More Than What Meets the Eye

So, the next time you’re thumbing through your own favorite fashion magazine, take a moment to think about where it got its start, how its evolved to where it is now and all of the struggles that it went through to get here.

Fashion magazines have always played a large part in social matters and even social justice. They’ve never only been about fashion. And you know what? If the past is what truly predicts the future, it looks like they never will be.

The fashion trends, the fashion reports, the fashion shout-outs from writers and fashion editors on social media are just the surface of what these publications are truly all about.

Personally, we couldn’t be more proud.

Patricia Sarkar
Patricia Sarkar
Read next: 7 Most Stylish Quarantine Looks.
Patricia Sarkar

Raised on a steady diet of makeup and games. Eager to share my experiences with the world and make a difference, article by article! :)

See all posts by Patricia Sarkar