Do’s and Don’t’s for Fashion Magazines

It just dawned on me that this is my virgin post for Ironing Board Collective and it is only through sheer willpower and this super awesome/mediocre beer called Spotted Cow from my homeland of Wisconsin that I am able to actually stumble over my writer’s block (and lists of possible post ideas) and bless you (?) with my first fabulous post full of insight, wit, and extensive knowledge of high fashion!

Actually, I hate high fashion, and this is where my beef with fashion magazines first comes in. Sure, I can appreciate a well-styled and made garment, as much as I can drool over a piece of clothing that can only be referred to as a “work of art.” I even really liked the Alexander McQueen exhibit. But beyond that, high fashion is ass.

My thoughts on this could be a blog post in itself, but for brevity, I’ll sum up my major issue with high fashion to be that of elitism. I am an American (United Statesian), after all, and I believe in FREEDOM! For me, freedom of fashion doesn’t come from being able to buy as much shit as humanly possible from the mall, but it comes from accessibility and creativity (not being made in sweatshops is also a major plus because that means that the people who make the garments are free too).

My interest in fashion and my love of magazines (which drove me to accumulate multiple journalism degrees at various levels, despite my hatred of the industry) comes to a head, naturally, in fashion magazines. Unfortunately, as I have often lamented with my friends, co-workers and bosses, the world of mainstream fashion magazines, especially here in the U.S. of A., is rather uninspiring and dull. Everyone freaks out about how the print industry is “failing,” but, duh, if your product sucks, people are going to look to the new frontier of the Internet for their free fashion fix.

As I am an optimist, however, and my belief in the power of the spirit to conquer adversity is almost as strong as my belief in freedom, I think this whole “fashion magazines suck” issue can be overcome. Behold my totally incomprehensive list of suggestions of how fashion magazines can continue to attain their high-power taste-maker statuses (and give us something interesting to look at while sitting around the airport)!

Some designers’ work that shows how you should go buy some leather shorts.

1. Can it with having high fashion designers as the base for everything you write about

Hey! You work in a creative industry! You work in fashion! You must love fashion to dedicate 60 plus hours of your week to pumping out copy for a magazine owned by an oil company based in Dubai*, so why don’t you insert some of your own fashiony-opinions in there and have a starting point other than what designers have puked out on the runway for this season?

To say that fashion magazines should be completely devoid of this sort of influence is perhaps a bit unrealistic (unlike all of my other grand ideas here), but it would be nice to see a few articles without the omnipresent thumbnails of some giraffe parading down a runway swaddled in a bundle of fabric (and the accompany text informing us of just what fashion genius birthed this wonder). Plus, like I said before, sometimes designers have cool stuff. Just give credit where credit is due and expand your options.

2. More “real” and culturally rich inspiration

These people make me want to dress weird.

There is a reason why “street fashion” blogs are so popular. Don’t get me wrong, this general category of fashion media is not without its own faults, but I get really excited whenever I see articles that include “real” people on the streets wearing “real” clothes. As my friend Molly once said, “I love it when people make me want to dress weird!” It says something when the random Joe or Jane on the street has a more interesting take on fashion than someone who is paid to write about it.

The major bummer about this is that this “let’s be real real here” trend is leaching over into many fashion magazines in a weird hybrid of “let’s be real real with people who are products of nepotism** and whose real closets are filled with designer labels.” As if it is hard to look fashionable when you have money and free swag all the time.


I’m also into weird iconic inspiration, like when NYLON takes some obscure-ish (to today’s youth) movie character/person from the past and presents her or him to a new generation of Midwestern pre-teens who live and die by what the magazine has to say. Exposing them early on to Little Edie or Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louise is one of the most responsible things you can do in the growth of their fashionable selves.

A note on “real” people:

These are celebs with “apple shaped” bodies. Wait, what? This doesn’t help you?

Can you also please stop inserting “real” women in magazines solely as examples of body types named after various kinds of fruit? Your advice on how to dress the pear-shaped body or whatever usually sucks anyway. Limiting your portrayals of women who are larger than a size 2 and not model-tall to “find the perfect ________ for your body” articles is insulting. Style comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and sexual orientations. Some of the most stylish women I know are plus-sized and it would be nice to have that sort of representation in fashion—without it being masqueraded under the headline of “plus size fashion” like it’s some charity case.

3. Tell it like it is

The majority of your readers can’t afford about 95.5% of what you photograph and tout on your pages. You know this, your advertisers/suppliers of what you photograph know this, and yet, you continue to pretend that it is a “steal” for someone to drop a cool $300 on a purse that is actually super shoddily made in China.

This makes me want to tell you to fuck off.

Now, I am sure that you are banking on sheer stupidity from the majority of your readers to either A) max out their credit cards on these “must have’s” or B) wait a year and buy the knock off from Forever 21, still asserting your power as a “taste-maker,” but for a lot of your readers, this sort of shit is just insulting.

Blazer + Turtleneck + Mini + Jeans = NO.

I want real fashion advice, like how to get dressed for work in 15 minutes at 7 a.m., or where I can buy a pair of non-sweatshop-made, sensible cotton panties for under $10. This sort of real fashion advice doesn’t bode well for most of these publication’s advertisers, so we often get weird editorials like this one in September’s InStyle where they attempted to create a “guide to layering.”


Your insincerity and incompetence is showing mostly with the suggestion to wear dresses over pants, InStyle. I can totally see through the fact that you were trying to make use of all the extra pieces you needed to fit into the issue and didn’t have another place for. It’s making me feel itchy.

Real or not real?

4. No more advertorials!

Every time I think about “new,” “exciting” ways that the media industry has figured out how to make more money by presenting advertising as entertainment, I think of a painful scene from the now-forgotten 2004 film In Good Company, in which Topher Grace asserts his youth and exuberance (in contrast to Dennis Quaid’s stodgy media purist character) by screaming about how awesome SYNERGY is. I turned off this film about ten seconds after that scene because I had really bad flashbacks to my college advertising course.

Now, when I say I want no more advertorials, it isn’t because this weird crossbreed of editorial and advertising bothers me on principle (as we have just explored, mainstream fashion magazines are essentially one big advertisement). It’s because they are just so unpleasant. I have yet to see an advertorial I like aesthetically. The challenge of attempting to sort of copy the look of the magazine’s editorial copy while maintaining the brainwashing of the advertising’s purpose is apparently too difficult for even the most professional (and probably underpaid and overworked) designer to accomplish. And those required warnings that what lies in front of you is actually an advertisement? It’s like a joke upon a joke—as if we didn’t know that everything on the pages in front of us is an advertisement.

I dream of finding this at a gas station in the middle of Minnesota.

In conclusion, not all hope is lost! Even if no one at Conde Nast-y takes note of my opinions (as great as they are), there are still some magazines out there that have more to offer than what is on every newsstand. Not that they are perfect, but I suggest N.E.E.T., an online magazine based out of England that features a lot of young, independent designers and has totally affordable advertising rates for those trying to hack it in the industry; Worn Fashion Journal, a publication from Canada that takes a more thoughtful direction in discussing fashion and fashion history; and Pigeons & Peacocks, a print publication I just picked up put out by London College of Fashion that has a lot of academic-type discussions about fashion, but with more pictures and less drivel than most academic journals. I am always on the lookout for great fashion publications, so if you know of any, let me know!

Til next time, peace,


*I have no factual evidence of this sort of company, but I bet it exists.

**SO one of my favorite topics in fashion journalism.


About hollyhilgenberg

A freelance writer specializing in vintage, thrifted and resale fashion and critical media studies. Professional whim chaser and self-proclaimed Gemini. I blog over at Operation Sparkle ( and run the creative women zine C.L.A.P. (Creative Ladies are Powerful).


  1. Those “Perfect ______ for Your Body Type” articles are always perplexing, because they make it clear that the ultimate goal for every apple and pear (or, as I once described myself to a roommate, male potato) is to look like a carrot. Celebrating one’s curves usually amounts to hiding them.

  2. carrieleilamlove

    YES YES YES! Welcome Holly. Ordering NEET P&P and Worn for my collection of Fashion Mags That Do Not Suck.

  3. hollyhilgenberg

    Oh and as Michael reminded me, The Gentlewoman is another great Fashion Mag that Does Not Suck!

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