While we’re now in an era when people no longer read magazines like how much they used to due to the rise of technology and digital communication, there’s no doubt how these publications have significantly influenced the fashion industry and the consumerist society.
Though we now see popular fashion magazines like Elle, Glamour, Vogue, and Cosmopolitan adapting and switching to digital platforms, their earliest counterparts were printed on paper, informing the public and serving as an inspiration in fashion.
Yet, you might be wondering what were actually the first fashion magazines to be published. Well, let’s go back in time and discover the fashion publications that made the start.
The Invention of the Magazine
Truth to be told, magazines’ origin can be dated back to the 1600s during the Elizabethan age. In this era, “The Treasure of Hidden Secrets” was published and was dedicated to “honest matrons, gentlewomen, and virtuous virgins.” However, this publication discussed culturally complex topics, including urine, curing conditions, and avoiding the plague.
Thankfully, things changed during Queen Anne’s reign onwards, as ladies’ diaries, almanacs, pocket pamphlets, and gazettes started to exist and trigger interest from its female-centric audience. Such publications heralded establishing an educational reader community and allowed healthy, informative exchange. From there, the first fashion magazine was born – Le Mercure Galant.
The First Fashion Magazines
1. Le Mercure Galant
Stemming from traditional women’s magazines, the world’s first fashion magazine, Le Mercure Galant, was published in 1672 during the reign of Louis XIV. This publication was the first to report on what’s happening in the fashion world, specifically featuring illustrated fashion plates of what’s “in” among royals and aristocrats and what they wear. Thus, also serving as a source of useful information for dressmakers living outside of the court.
Published on a weekly basis, The Mercure Gallant also educated its readers about fashion etiquettes, luxury goods, and the lifestyle inside the Court of Louis XVI. In addition, the publication also features news, songs, poems, anecdotes, fashion reviews, and theater and art reviews inciting artistic and intellectual debates. All in all, Le Mercure Gallant played an integral role in disseminating information about fashion not only inside King Louis XIV’s court but also to the provinces and abroad.
2. The Lady’s Magazine
After the French pioneer came The Lady’s Magazine, a brainchild of London antiquarian John Coote. It was first published in Great Britain in August 1770. Its first publisher was John Whelbe, but in the early part of the following year, Coote already sold his interest to George Robinson, the magazine’s new publisher.
Despite such quick changes, The Lady’s Magazine ruled the market from its inception up until 1830. Bearing a price of only sixpence per copy, the publication garnered a total readership of 16,000. It was deemed a massive feat, given the status of printing technology and the literacy levels at that time. Later on, The Lady’s Magazine was the first to utilize color images.
The Lady’s Magazine featured various articles on poetry, music, social gossip, fiction, fashion, and clothing patterns. The publication ceased in 1847, but not without enjoying success during most of its run, which also birthed imitations, such as The New Lady’s Magazine and The Lady’s Monthly Museum.
3. Le Cabinet Des Modes Ou Les Modes Nouvelles
Published between 1785 and 1793, Le Cabinet Des Modes Ou Les Modes Nouvelles was a bimonthly French magazine that aimed to promote the country’s fashion across the world, featuring black and white engraving fashion plates in each issue. Though Galerie des Modes et Costumes Français was already being issued prior to Le Cabinet Des Modes Ou Les Modes Nouvelles’ existence, the former was published rarely and was highly exclusive and expensive.
Jean-Antoine Lebrun-Tossa was the editor and Bosse was the publisher of the Le Cabinet Des Modes Ou Les Modes Nouvelles, respectively. The publication was released every fifteen days, containing eight pages with three fashion plates each and discussing various topics, such as clothing fashion, fashion etiquettes, seasonal and occasional fashion tips, and other fashion advice. Advertisements from local and individual fashion merchants, dressmakers, and tailors were also seen in the magazine.
Extremely cheaper than its predecessor, coming at a price of 21 livres, the magazine became a huge success, earning more than 800 subscribers in its first year of issue. Such an affordable price also allowed the middle classes to read magazines, which were then only available to the aristocrats.
Le Cabinet Des Modes Ou Les Modes Nouvelles is considered by most as the world’s first “proper fashion magazine”. It was exported across Europe and was soon followed by other publications in the region, such as Milan’s Giornale delle Dame e delle Mode di Francia, Germany’s Journal des Luxus und der Moden, and Italy’s Giornale Dedicato al Bel Sesso.
4. Le Journal des Dames et des modes
After the fall of Le Cabinet Des Modes Ou Les Modes Nouvelles, the Le Journal des Dames et des modes followed suit. Published between 1797 and 1839, it had nearly monopolized the fashion world, delivering French fashion worldwide, especially during the Napoleonic age. Napoleon I treated the magazine with much importance, given that he also valued fashion as an integral part of the French industry.
Unlike its predecessor which was issued bimonthly, this publication was released every five days, containing one to two fashion plates and eight pages of text. Additionally, the magazine featured poetry, fiction, theater reviews, and descriptions of societal life. Pierre de la Mesangere served as its editor during most of its existence.
Le Journal des Dames et des modes was extremely affordable. It’s no surprise that it also became popular in different parts of the world, such as Paris, Britain, Belgium, Russia, Germany, Holland, and even Boston. While France was infamous for the Napoleonic wars, French fashion’s popularity didn’t waver, resulting in the Le Journal des Dames et des modes’ international success. However, the 1920s saw the rise of rivaling French magazines, which eventually led to this magazine’s discontinuation in 1839.
5. La Belle Assemblée
Founded by John Bell, La Belle Assemblée was a women’s magazine published in Great Britain from 1806 to 1837. It was best renowned for its fashion plates under the Regency era styles, but also published theater and book reviews, non-fiction articles on science and politics, as well as original fiction and poetry and serialized novels. Some of the magazines’ notable contributors were Catherine Hutton and Mary Shelley, but readers’ contributions were also promoted and published.
La Belle Assemblée usually came with five plates, two dedicated for providing a sewing pattern and sheet music, two bearing the latest trends, and the remaining one allotted for showcasing a member of the fashionable society or the court. Nevertheless, La Belle Assemblée didn’t revolve primarily around the frippery of fashionable clothing and included content for intellectual consumption.
La Belle Assemblée retained its name until May 1832, before it became The Court Magazine and Belle Assemblée until 1837. After that year, it became The Court Magazine and Monthly Critic after merging with The Lady’s Magazine and Museum, which was also already a merger between The Lady’s Magazine and a rival.
6. Godey’s Lady Book
Also known as the Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, Godey’s Lady Book was the United States’ most successful women’s magazine during the 1850’s with a total circulation of nearly 150,000. Published in Philadelphia by Louis A. Godey, the publication was famed for hand-tinted fashion plates placed at the beginning of every issue, imparting valuable records on the development of women’s clothing.
Other contents of the magazine include poetry, articles, music sheets, and engraving from notable writers, musicians, and artists at that time. Before his death in 1878, Godey sold the publication to John Hill Seyes Haulenbeek in 1877. To reflect the ownership change and the aim to provide broader content, the magazine was renamed to “Godey’s Magazine,” but eventually stopped publication in 1896.
7. Harper’s Bazaar
America’s first proper fashion magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, made its first appearance on November 2, 1867, in New York. Bearing the tagline, “A Repository of Fashion, Pleasure, and Instruction,” the publication created a huge buzz and soon reshaped the world of fashion and women’s magazines.
Its founding editor was May Louise Booth who aimed towards providing women with a publication that will keep them up to the minute about the latest trends in arts, literature, society, and fashion. Along with Booth, behind the successful magazine were numerous legendary fashion stylists, writers, editors, journalists, illustrators, and photographers. Today, Harper’s Bazaar is still running, making it the country’s longest-running fashion magazine.
As a crucial vehicle of communication, these early fashion magazines were pivotal in conveying information about the fashion world and bringing fashion to its status today. Later on, these magazines proliferated in different versions and titles across the world, making fashion always a statement. As mentioned, they may no longer be consumed the way before, but the contribution of magazines to the fashion realm is indisputable.