fashion magazines
Essays on Faith, Family and Culture

The Long, Slow, and Expected Demise of the Women’s Magazine

I read today that Glamour has joined the ranks of women’s magazines to move to an all-digital format. The print magazine will no longer be available. It’s a not unexpected but it is a sad end to the era of the glossy women’s magazines.



It’s a hot August afternoon in 1983. I’m sprawled on my bed, the counterpane cool under my cheek. On the bed open in front of me is the September issue of Glamour. I’ve waited all summer for the monster issues of Glamour, Vogue, Seventeen, Mademoiselle, Elle. I love nothing more than to lay just as I am now and flip through the glossy promise of their pages. The perfumed richness, the colorful makeup ads, the fashion spreads, it’s all a glittering, shining world of fashion that I love.

My teenage years were marked by these fashion magazines – Seventeen, which taught me how to wear makeup, how to wear my skirts, the do’s and don’ts of dating. My older sister subscribed and hid her issues in a cabinet near the bathroom. I’d pull them out and flip through the forbidden pages. My sister is six years older than I am. Seventeen is my portal into the world of teenage life, a glimpse of what will be.

YM (Young Miss, another teen magazine) began publishing in 1932, and many of the glossies I grew up with began publishing during the Great Depression. It’s no surprise. The pages promised a world beyond the grim realities of Depression-era life just as they promised a brighter future to my young self.

But times have changed. Teenagers today don’t care about glossy magazines. They spend more time with their digital devices and on social media than ever before. Instagram influencers, fashion bloggers, and YouTube stylists dictate the makeup colors and hemline choices the way the fashion glossies did in my day.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Sometime in the late 1980s, a change crept into the pages of the fashion magazines. Instead of fashion stories with the occasional feature article, the features became more prominent, less balanced. Most of the fashion magazines leaned left, but by the 1990s they completely tilted in the pro-abortion, pro-choice camp; it was a given to their readers that women would be having sex outside of marriage, that abortion was considered acceptable, and that any social issue du jour was fair game. If you held a different viewpoint, you were against women’s rights! (that’s what it felt like, anyway). With a disdainful sniff, the fashion magazines ignored their conservative and moderate readers.

By the mid to late 1990s, the only magazines I continued to receive were gardening magazines and business magazines. Today, the only magazines I subscribe to Virginia Gardener, Country Gardener, and Victoria.

What happened? The internet, of course, played a huge role in the push of content from magazine pages to digital. It makes perfect sense. With postage costs constantly on the rise and the time it takes to write, create, layout, print, and mail a glossy, the economic model that once underpinned the magazine industry no longer makes sense.

But there’s another story underneath the economic story, the story of scope creep.

With the magazines, their scope creep began when they began covering ‘issues’ and expanded when these issues became one-sided propaganda pieces for the progressive liberal left. Conservative Christian Christian, Jewish and Muslim women all wish to look at beautiful fashions, too.

I couldn’t continue purchasing these magazines when they began expounding and promoting ideologies that directly contradict my faith.

I wanted to scream, “You’re a fashion magazine! Report on fashion!”

I unsubscribed. Stopped buying them at the newsstand. Refused to even look at their websites. If you’re going to try to feed me propaganda, go away. I want fashion news. You’re not giving that to me. You’re feeding me your worldview and I don’t accept it.

Can you just tell me about the pretty new colors for spring, please? The latest purse styles? All about the new makeup line from my favorite brand?

I read that Glamour and Seventeen both receive about 2 million visitors per month. Yet there are 112 million women age 18 to 44 in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

I wonder how many of the 110,000,000 who do NOT look at their websites would do if they stuck to fashion reporting?

When I graduated from college, I wanted desperately to break into magazines. I thought the epitome of publishing success would be magazine writing. Feature writer. I applied to dozens of magazines but never even got an interview for a job.

Even as late as 2008, when I first began writing for websites, print publications looked down as “web writers” as if we were hacks. The irony? All of these magazines are shifting to a digital model. That’s right – web publication only.

I’m sad to see all of these once fun magazines retire into the history books but I am not surprised. It’s long overdue. Once fashion magazines began taking their own social commentary seriously, it sounded their death knell. It was a long, slow decline. Now that they are moving to digital editions, it will be interesting to see how they evolve over time.

But it’s also sad in a way.  Teenagers today won’t know the thrill of waiting for the August back-to-school issue to arrive, an issue twice or even three times the size of the regular Seventeen or Vogue. They won’t rip Vogue covers off of their magazines and hang them inside their bedroom closet so they could be reminded every day of their ideal (I really, really wanted to look just like Estelle Lefebure). They won’t sneak their big sister’s Seventeen magazines out to dream away an afternoon wishing they were grown up.