I take several magazines, but I’m editing. Elle has got to go.
Elle is good at what it does, reaching with almost surgical precision into the hearts and minds of its customer: the female of the species. Though the world of fashion publishing is slightly more fickle (and fraught, and funded) than the quilt one, I am a magazine editor and I can assure you: getting into hearts and minds is the difficult and never-ending job of any magazine that wants to succeed. Elle makes it look easy. Published by Hearst here in the U.S. since 1945, Elle wins industry awards frequently, and the number of ads inside speaks to its profitability. The editorial is solid (mostly), the photography and the layouts are tops, and if you want to know what’s fashionable these days, you will find out in Elle.
But it’s over, and it happened yesterday morning.
I was staring out the window, thinking about the concept of study hall and noticed the latest issue of Elle in my mail stack. Lovely! Historically, I have enjoyed fashion magazines, thus the getting one in the mail and all. I pulled the magazine to my lap and spent 20 minutes — not a moment longer — flipping through the pages and feeling increasingly ill. Page after page of peacock colors, nail lacquer, hair product, handbags, oils, skin cream, more shoes; miserable fourteen-year-old girls, hostile ad campaigns, backstage “candids” that took thirty minutes to set up; “up and comers,” “ones to watch,” and reanimated has-beens who have been given a page because it’s ironic to see a now-haggard Jennifer Beals in a leather jumper posing with Miley Cyrus. Or something.
What the hell are they doing to us?
The fashion industry is an easy target. It’s foolish, it’s vicious, it’s myopic, it’s preposterous: I am saying zero new things. I’m also not saying that fashion is frivolous. I care deeply about style and apparel. This is precisely the problem. The New York Times street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham said once, “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life,.” Correct. Every morning, I decide who I will be that day by choosing what I’ll wear. My mood and my mien are directly tied to what I’m in by 7:00am. I’m not alone in this. Fashion is powerful.
Fashion magazines are not. That’s why I’m done. Fashion magazines take the awesome power of fashion and kill it dead. Fashion magazines show one, itsy-bitsy tier of fashion: the one that proclaims, “Price is no object. Neither is location.” I don’t begrudge the people who take up this space; I’m genuinely happy they can access it. But I turned to a picture of a woman in a skirt that cost $6,995 and with deep conviction, I rolled up the magazine and banged it on the couch with a whap! whap! whap! I was furious. You know who buys and reads Elle? The 27-year-old admin assistant who just got a modest raise. She lives in the west suburbs and drives an hour in traffic twice a day. The married mother of two getting a mani-pedi in Omaha. The single girl in the city who has some disposable income but also student loans that wake her up at night. The aging sun-tanner. They all love fashion, too, so they look at fashion magazines. But the message shared with them isn’t one of inclusion: it’s either a) this isn’t really for you; or b) you should be able to buy this, eventually.
Shame on you, Elle. Shame on you and your brethren for totally obscuring fashion with money. I have an idea: you take that $6,995 skirt and you wear it. Go ahead. Put it on. That’ll be punishment enough. It looks as ridiculous on you as it would on the Omaha mom. Floor-length silk pleats? Are you drunk?
Silver lining: the rise of the street fashion blog. These blogs show actual citizens of Earth doing fashion and showing style, mixing the high and the low, getting bourgeoise a little smutty or classing up what’s grungy. In these images, the power of fashion returns. Consider me clicking — and not leafing — forevermore.