A Nostalgic Exhibition of Fashion’s First Magazine

The Fashion and Textile Museum’s Winter 2017/18 display celebrates the 150th anniversary of the world’s first fashion magazine, Harper’s Bazaar. The archive of issues spans from its birth in the 1800s to now, a time where print magazines struggle to bring in readers and revenue.

By Mia Zarrella


Until January 21, the Fashion and Textile Museum will take you back in time to the 1800s when the world’s first fashion magazine was created, Harper’s Bazaar.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Bazaar and the Fashion and Textile Museum has created an extensive showcase of notable archived issues.

To reach the display, travel through a vast exhibition of photography by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, a famous Harper’s Bazaar photographer and a pioneer of female fashion photography. Then follow the stairwell towards the Fashion Studio and enter the exhibition titled, “The First and Last Word in Fashion.”

Harper’s Bazaar has featured every fashion icon from Twiggy to Princess Diana to, yes, even the Kardashians. Despite its age, the magazine remains current, keeping up with current news and trends and remaining a powerful editorial voice in fashion media. That is why the Fashion and Textile Museum created this time capsule: to grant visitors the chance to look back at magazine issues from a time many cannot begin to imagine.

The exhibition starts at the magazine’s launch in New York in 1867. Issues produced by the first editor, multilingual U.S. journalist and suffragette Mary Louise-Booth, hang on the wall to the left of the entryway. Her legacy is followed by successors such as the legendary Carmel Snow and current editors like the USA’s editor Glenda Bailey and the UK’s Justine Picardie.

Founded by NY–based publishing company, Harper & Brothers, the magazine was intended to be “A repository of fashion, pleasure, and instruction,” says Harper’s Bazaar’s website.

Seeing these 12 intelligent, creative, and driven editors on the walls is an empowering moment for women everywhere. And as this room follows the showcase of another inspirational female figure, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, the exhibit unsurprisingly drew in many female visitors.

At one point, a group of older women meander through the exhibit and after a long period of silence they begin discussing how “[the younger] people don’t read paper magazines anymore” and how “everything is digital.”


As the yellowed, aged newsprint and illustrated covers of old issues gradually mature into a symphonic feast of vibrant, high-def photography and glossy pages of modern day fashion, it’s disconcerting to think that this medium could be dying.

That’s when the exhibition title transforms into a morbid innuendo.

“The First and Last Word in Fashion.” Is this an exhibit or is it a funeral?

Emotions are running high for magazine-lovers, these days. Conde Nast’s youth fashion magazine, Teen Vogue, has declared that after rebranding its content, resizing the magazine, and reducing its distribution to four times a year, the magazine is halting their print product and moving to online only.

Teen Vogue isn’t the only magazine making cuts, either. GQ, Glamour, Allure, Architectural Digest, Bon Appétit, W and Condé Nast Traveler, have all reduced their frequency, some more than others.

The cuts are in light of a reduced revenue stream as less people are buying print magazines and less advertisers are putting their ads into print. Instead, everybody is looking to read and invest in online media.

According to a Business of Fashion article from this November, “The first two quarterly editions of Teen Vogue averaged 22,590 single-copy sales, versus an average of 47,689 per issue in the first half of 2015. As of October, Teen Vogue’s average monthly unique visitors for the year were 8.27 million, up from 1.4 million when Picardi took over the site in April 2015.”

Though this appears like the right decision for Teen Vogue, how many other magazines will follow? And what will be the impact of more magazines switching to digital?

In another 100 years, will magazines be an artifact people gawk at in museums and at flea markets? Will they be regarded the same way as cassette tapes and flip phones?

It’s hard to imagine a world where a newspaper isn’t skimmed while riding the subway or where teenagers aren’t flipping through magazines in bed. Digital is the future and there is no arguing that, yet, some people will always prefer thumbing through a magazine, doggy-earring their favorite articles, and taping their favorite pages onto their lockers or bedroom wall.  

The way we receive news is changing as quickly as news itself. And there’s no saying what magazines will be like in another century, or even in another 20 years. Yet, fashion media will live on, whether it is transmitted by newsprint or cell phone screens, allowing readers to always hear the last word.

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