Blog or Not?

A statistically improbable polymath's views on politics and culture.

Thursday, August 18, 2005
Why do men get all the good fashion magazines?
Vogue is launching a new publication aimed at men, entitled (surprise!) Men's Vogue, and it already sounds better than most of the wood pulp product packaged as women's fashion magazines:
The articles Mr. Fielden commissioned - a number of them from New Yorker writers like John Seabrook, Nick Paumgarten and Michael Specter - suggest a robust appetite for a literate, adventuresome life. There is a profile of the painter Walton Ford [....]

George Clooney is on the cover, photographed on the set of the Edward R. Murrow biopic he directed. And though there is plenty of fashion in the magazine, it takes a moment before you realize that it is all shown on so-called real men, not models. [Emphasis added]

Wait a minute. Men get to look at relatively sensible clothing on men who don't make all of their money off their appearences, and we women are stuck with outlandish couture displayed on skeletons with breasts? When was the last time Sarah Hepola had a piece in Elle? And if Saul Bellow can be the muse for Men's Vogue, why hasn't someone created a mass-market glossy inspired by Camille Paglia?

Because it would get no ads, that's why--look at Bust, a magazine which has nothing against buying clothes and cosmetics and even discusses them in small amounts, but whose only advertisers are small Internet concerns. One could argue that Bust has chosen to preserve its editorial integrity by eschewing mainstream advertising, but I've seen rather brutal reviews of products in other ad-driven glossies. So why should CoverGirl be so reluctant about advertising lipstick in a thoughtful female-oriented magazine? Then I realized--CoverGirl isn't selling lipstick. It is selling hope for love.

The ads of cosmetics and women's clothing companies don't send the message "I'm a cute product! You'll like me! Buy me!" as much as "I can help you get a man! Buy me!" Yes, some men's clothing ads are aimed at showing the effect their cotton polos have on women, but ads for men's business clothing say "I can get you a corner office" instead of "I can get you a supermodel". Men's cologne advertisements are perhaps the only portion of the men's ad market aimed exclusively at sex appeal; unlike women's cosmetics and fragrance ads, they are brutally honest about this aim.

However, the advertisments' (and the magazine's) aid in procuring love and happiness must never be too good, or else women, having succeeded in finding mutually fulfilling relationships, will no longer feel as much pressure to try twenty shades of lipstick or buy a new copy of Glamour every month in hopes of learning "Twenty New Ways to Attract a Guy"--because she's already mastered the rules of attraction. The only readers of the magazine will be this year's crop of inexperienced teenage girls, who will abandon the magazine after extracting all of the editors' wisdom. Thus, the relationship advice in magazines must seem deep enough for an trusting reader to consider it helpful, but it must be shallow enough to keep the reader dependent on the magazine's future advice.

Were American women to fully internalize feminist sensibilities, they would not stop shopping for clothes, cosmetics, and skin-care products--but they would buy what they wanted. Fashion would become a realm for play as much as a preparation for the battle for the sexes; both sexes would primp for nights out, but pointy-toed stilletos would be eschewed for something cute and podiatrist-friendly. Maybe this would drive the fashion industry to actually produce decent professional clothing for women--say, a charcoal wool suit at a fair price?

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