The History of Fashion Journalism

The History of Fashion Journalism

I have before me a series of fashion engravings dating from the Revolution and finishing about the time of the Consulat. These costumes, which cause much amusement amongst many thoughtless people—solemn people who lack real gravitas—have a dual charm both artistic and historical. They are often beautiful and drawn with wit but what matters as much to me and what I am happy to find in all, or almost all of them, are the moral and aesthetic values of their time.

I confess, I am as charmed by the sight of fashion on the page as Baudelaire. I have spent many hours writing about fashion journalism, even more time researching it, and more time than I care to remember consuming and enjoying it. I am not alone in this: artists from Manet, Cocteau (figure 1.1), and Klimt to Damien Hirst, photographers such as Man Ray and Deborah Turbeville, and writers from Honoré de Balzac and Oscar Wilde to Dorothy Parker, Angela Carter, and Linda Grant have all been fascinated by writing about and images of fashion. This is no mystery to me because, as I will endeavor to show, fashion journalism cannot be seen as being separate from fashion itself. The two are symbiotic. As an integral part of the fashion system, fashion journalism reflects all of the variety and creativity of fashion. Indeed, if fashion is the creation of the symbolic value of clothing, then the fashion media—dedicated magazines, fashion columns in newspapers, women’s “service” magazines, Sunday supplements, hybrid or niche magazines, television, and blogs and other online platforms—have been, since the outset, at the very heart of the process. This is the argument proposed by Roland Barthes in his seminal work on French fashion journalism, The Fashion System (1990 [1967]). Although Barthes was not an enthusiast of fashion journalism, his exploration of late 1950s’ magazines provides a useful point of departure for an analysis of the fashion discourse. Barthes suggested that fashion journalism has shaped, and possibly even created, the concept of fashion and its symbolic value.

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