Fashion magazines are all glamorous and attractive but there is a lot about them underneath the beautiful models endorsing expensive brands. They are actually vehicles for telling you what to do, how to think and how to behave. And this doesn’t just happen by chance, it is by design. They are more like instruction manuals, guiding and luring customers into falling for what they present as “fashion”.
People following these magazines to keep themselves in vogue symbolize how these glossy publications shape society and human image.
1. They Could Promote A Political Ideology
Since the Cold War was more of a conflict of ideologies rather than a conflict of armies, every small thing was used as a weapon to color people’s minds. As fashion magazines often promote a type of lifestyle rather than individual products, they were used to sway public opinion either to the side of capitalism or to the side of socialism.
Capitalism rode on the back of consumerism of consumerism of course. Promoting high-end brands, the glitz and glamour of the West. Trends that encouraged ‘free’ thought made the cover. However, on the flipside, the socialists had a harder battle to fight, by trying to undo something that was so fundamentally fashionable. To them, fashion was seen as uncontrollable to socialist governments because it was all the things that socialism was against. So they faked it. Socialist governments took over fashion institutes and publications are designed collections of clothing and accessories they deemed appropriate. They then filled magazines with these designs. Since people took to fashion magazine to instruct them on what to wear, people began to aspire to these ‘socialist’ designs. Offering them an accepted and “fashionable” makeover through the fashion magazines, Socialist governments guided their people into following obligatory behavioural patterns and a socialist fashion sense.
2. They Could Endorse A Social Image
For anyone who has watched Mad Men, you know that the 60s were almost the golden age of advertising. People were just starting to make their money back after the Depression and the war and consumerism was at a high. People were very gullible and advertisers took advantage of this. It is during this time that ads for beauty products in fashion magazines became guidebooks for women on what to wear and how to look and behave. They constructed the social image of an ideal woman, and every woman wanted to be her. Clairol said, “If I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde.” Gillette said silky, smooth and hairless was the only was skin should be. Nadinola promoted skin lightening and bleaching creams and Cutex wanted all women to have manicured nails. This was the beginning of what we now know to be normal – Advertisements of highly airbrushed and photoshopped models have been a great and influencing delusion for the humanity. Shiny, voluminous and blonde hair qualifying as “gorgeous”, shaved armpits for “feminine and unmanly” women. From makeup products to make your eyelashes longer and camel-like, to fairness and fake tan creams; these magazines make you chase and adopt an image that is artificial.
3. They Could Be Used As A Consumerist Soft Power
This large-scale consumerism is reflected most prominently in the economy. When something is ‘in fashion’, the demand for it increases. Therefore, it’s production, generation of employment, use of raw materials also increases. When fashion magazines promote designers or production houses for a particular sector of the country, it is not purely based on what they deem ‘fashionable’ but also on what is profitable and for whom. A boost given to Chinese goods by both designers and label has led to China becoming a manufacturing hub. When fashion magazines began promoting Armani as a luxury brand, Italy, by association began to acquire ‘elite’ status. American jeans, worn popularly in almost every country, became a symbol of ‘support’ for the country in the cold war, and as an expansion of western ideology around the world. In this era of high street fast fashion, clothing as a soft power is depreciating with everything becoming more wholesale. But it’s power cannot be overlooked.
4. They Can Bring Cultural Awareness
When cultural symbols or traditional garb is used as decoration of accessories in fashion, most people are ready to accuse the brand or publication of cultural appropriation. However, the flip side of this is that it can also bring awareness to an ignored people. When someone belonging to a different culture uses a traditional symbol inappropriately, it can be controversial, like when Gucci used turbans in a fashion show. However, when a native translates the tradition correctly, it can reinforce the culture of the world. Nigerian born Wekaforé Jibril – founder of the label Wekafore – does this for African culture. brings about awareness of the African culture through fashion. According to him, African culture has been misrepresented in fashion so far. He gives a political edge to his works and wants to represent African fashion adequately and appropriately. Breaking the stereotype associated with the African population and their outfits, he has used the past and the present, religion, and society as inspiration to his collection. Designers like Wekaforé Jibril have used fashion to bringing forth and carrying their culture.
5. They Could Carry Social Change
Fashion icons like designers, models and artists litter the pages of every fashion magazine. They are admired, even fawned over. This makes them big influencers of social change. In the 1960’s, the civil rights movement in America brought a massive change in the political culture. Black models began appearing in high-end fashion magazines. The “Afro” and the Dashiki became fashionable. This made African Americans style icons, equally admired and fawned over. This made the sentiment ‘black is beautiful’, acceptable around the world and African American women gained importance in society.
Similarly, while conservative fashion breeds a conservative society, bold trends that show more skin break the notion that women need protection and should be kept ‘safe’. As magazines become bolder, like the picture of a woman breastfeeding her child on the cover of Grihalakshmi, the limits of what is ‘okay’ and ‘acceptable’ in society widen and women need not conform to old standards.