Looking at a poster of Frank Leslie’s Gazette of Fashion and Fine Needlework from the 1850s is similar to stepping through the looking-glass of women’s fashion magazines. On such a poster one finds the latest hair styles and the most fashionable dresses, jackets, and hats. One hundred and forty years later, if one was to walk past a magazine rack the content would be more or less the same.
As a teenage girl growing up in the twenty-first century, I can recall numerous times I would ask my mom to buy the latest copy of Seventeen or Cosmopolitan. I could not wait to bend the binding and discover new things about femininity: new make-up tricks, new ways to style my hair, tips on how to socialize. My mind would reel at the thought of trying out what I learned as soon as I could; magazines helped me in discovering who I wanted to be. They answered questions I did not dare to voice out loud. If the magazines of today could have such an impact on my life, what sort of effect did magazines of the nineteenth century have on its readers?
As it turns out, The Boston Globe asked the same question back in August of 1877 when they published an article titled “Influence of Magazines.” The consensus of the time was that while magazines did “put your own thoughts into vigorous English” they also created “few writers [that] gleam with bright intelligence” (“Influence of Magazines” 1). In other words, magazines did not produce great works of literary merit; they were soft, light, entertaining, and perhaps detrimental to our intellectual growth.
Looking closer, perhaps these “superficial” magazines hold more merit than given credit. They may not produce epic, legendary documents of the written word but they do capture, in less than one hundred pages, a snapshot of the social order of the time period. Women’s magazines cater to the topics that are most on the minds of their readers. O Magazine is geared towards women that average 47-years-old and promotes a “core mix of advice, spirituality, beauty, fashion, health, lifestyle, and fitness” (“O Positive”). With over two million subscribers, it would seem these topics are at the forefront of the minds of women in today’s world. Continue reading Frank Leslie’s Gazette of Fashion: A Model For How We Read Magazines