Are mainstream fashion magazines still relevant for women?

By: Adji Kebi


I ’ve always loved fashion. When I was younger, I used to help my mom as she got dressed. She would ask me which earrings, necklaces, and bracelets went with her outfits. Everything always came together like a Rubik’s cube. As I got older, I fell in love with fashion and style as well. I always planned my school outfits with both creativity and intentionality. Every day had its own look and I was adamant on expressing myself. I must have been about 12, when I read my first fashion magazine. I flipped over the glossy pages, careful as if coddling a child. Every image, outfit, style, and photograph were mesmerizing. That world offered a different portal than Harry Potter. It was aspirational and beautiful. It also offered different career opportunities which didn’t include doctor, lawyer, or engineer. However, as I got older, I realized these magazines were not for me. I didn’t look like the girls on the magazine covers. I didn’t have the same hair texture, skin color, or weight. I also wasn’t interested in the do’s and don’ts.  So many magazines had lists of ways for women to behave. Don’t wear white after labor day, do lose those extra ten pounds, and so on and so forth. I already had enough of that at home and I wasn’t interested in being told how to behave, eat, or impress men. Many women feel this sentiment as well.

In 2018, Conde Nast, one of the largest and most successful mass media companies in the United States, lost more than 120 million dollars in revenue. This is following years of steady decline in revenue. Most of the revenue loss occurred in print advertising and circulation as it’s cheaper for companies to advertise on social media, than on any of their magazines. They can also reach a wider audience. As of 2018, Conde Nast has sold Golf Digest, Brides, and W magazine. Two of their publications, Glamour and Teen Vogue are no longer in print either. This is not only happening at Conde Nast. A myriad of publishing conglomerates and paper magazine sales are on the decline. According to Forbes magazine, the total sales volume of magazines in 2007 was 4.9 billions dollars. It fell to 2.0 billion dollars by 2017. Publishers like Time Inc., Rodale, and Wenner media have been bought by larger companies such as Hearst.

The evolution of social media and technology has had a tremendous impact the fashion industry. No longer are magazines the go-to products for women interested in style, culture, and beauty. Sites like Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and fashion blogs democratize everything. Not only can anyone with an email gain access to these sites, but they gain access to a more diverse representation of beauty. No longer is the thin blond white woman the ideal of beauty. Instagram creates a space for plus size girls, dark-skinned girls, and any other group left out by the mainstream fashion industry. Now fashion bloggers sit front row at New York and Paris Fashion Week. Their opinions and voices matter. People are spending hours on their websites and advertising companies are cognizant of this. “I follow numerous Instagrammers and bloggers who appeal to my personal aesthetic, and there are many niche, magazines challenging the status quo of traditional fashion publishing and setting a different agenda for diverse audiences,” said Professor Frances Corner in an interview with The Guardian. She’s head of the London College of Fashion and an adviser for Vestoj, an independent fashion magazine.

With the decline in popularity of mainstream magazines like Vogue, there’s been a significant rise in popularity of independent women’s magazines.

The Gentlewoman, Roundtable Journal, and Gal-Dem, are some of these independent magazines that specifically cater to women. Most are owned and operated solely by women and mostly people of color. They strive to be inclusive, making sure different kinds of women and identities are represented. Besides fashion and style, they discuss topics, perhaps too taboo for Vogue magazine, such as sexuality, the experiences of minorities, etc.Gal-Dem has features called First Person, in which people of color talk about their lived experiences. Khloe Bailey Obazee, a lesbian living in the United Kingdom, wrote an article about her visibility as a black lesbian, while  Shynee Sienna Hewavidana wrote an article about her complex relationship with her Sri Lanka culture. These magazines also seem to be intentional about how they write about women and their bodies. The female body has been a sight of objectification for centuries and these women are changing the lenses in which we are being seen. On their website the editors of Gal-Dem wrote their core beliefs. They stated that
“…taking control of the way we are portrayed in the media is essential – but our end goal is not simply representation: our journalism and creative work can shape debates, shift discussions, create new ways of thinking and contribute to social movements.”

Not only are these new fashion magazines shaking the table, but they are doing so in style. They are proving magazines can be relevant in our current social media age, if they are willing to offer women more than just fashion, style, or unrealistic depictions of ourselves.With the proliferation of social media, we have access to different representations of beauty. No longer is the European beauty ideal, the only standard of beauty. Now we have multiple standards and we’re demanding they be represented. If fashion magazines value their readers, they would be invested in researching what women in this current age find interesting and appealing. They will be competing with social media for our attention as well, but this is an incentive to be more creative.

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