The September Vogue

24 Aug

Last week, coming into our bedroom to fold laundry, my husband picked up the hefty issue of Vogue I’d left on the bed and scornfully tossed it aside. “Why did you buy a magazine with Kate Moss on the cover?” He made no effort to hide his disapproval. Why should he? Every good feminist knows fashion magazines are evil.

“Because I wanted to.”

Apparently this was not the answer he was looking for. He scowled at me. I scowled right back. I mocked his derision. He told me to… well, you get the idea. In the end, we avoided a scuffle, but as he pointed out, I can do whatever I want, but I can’t make him like it.


Every August I face the same dilemma: to buy or not to buy the September Vogue. It’s everywhere, taunting me. It calls to me like free samples of Godiva, like Paul Konerko in tight pants, like an open bar with top-shelf margaritas. I know I shouldn’t and yet… Every August I lose my shit to the fall Vogue.

It’s just so big! So beautiful! So over-the-top glamorous! (The magazine, people.) With cover models swathed in richly hued fabrics, shiny like high-end lip gloss, the September Vogue promises luxury and excess few of us can dream of. That’s the whole point. The September Vogue is all about dreaming. Flipping through its pages, one loses the reality that she has just dropped $4 for a collection of ads, and gains the pretense that she too could spend her days shopping, sipping cocktails with celebrities, and attending charity galas with socialites who are talented and strikingly attractive, but not quite as talented or striking as she.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with fashion magazines, which is why Mr. Irises snarls about them. He’s really just looking out for me. (He’s honestly a very sweet, supportive guy.) But again, it’s my magpie problem – I like shiny, pretty things, and that’s all fashion magazines are. Pretty fluff. Few people read Vogue for the articles (although, at least in Vogue you can expect quality articles, unlike its more salacious counterparts.) Nonetheless, I am aware that when I buy Vogue I’m looking at a magazine which is 90% advertising, promoting products which are at best impractical for most women, and at worst degrading. We all know Vogue offers a very limited vision of what a ‘woman’ can be. I am not thin enough to fit into one single piece of clothing advertised in Vogue, but then, few people are. (Perhaps I could throw one of the photoshoots’ velvet backdrops around my shoulders.) I wear very little makeup. I have never been to Cabo St. Lucas. I’d break my ankles in a pair of Jimmy Choos. But looking at a Vogue, I can pretend, just for a few minutes, that I could stride along the Cabo beach in my Jimmy Choos and Alexander McQueen gown with perfect grace, if I only chose to. (As though I live in small town Indiana because I like cows and corn, not out of necessity.)

For years, knowing Mr. Irises disapproves of such an indulgent, limiting and frankly sexist form of entertainment, I snuck the September Vogue into my house like contraband and looked at it only behind the closed door of my office room. I didn’t like having to defend my interest. Now and then, at other times during the year, I’d have the urge to look through women’s fashion magazines, but I rarely bought them. I could just flip through them in the bookstore. The September Vogue, however, must be purchased. It’s 750+ pages, for heaven’s sake. I can hardly lift it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I saw an old issue of Vogue at my awesome friend Melissa Washburn’s home. (She is responsible for the lovely redesign of my blog. Have a look at her beautiful site featuring her art and design work.) I told her about Mr. Irises’ position, how I never brought women’s fashion magazines home because I didn’t want to debate my odd, decidedly non-feminist affection for them, how I felt guilty for even looking at them. I subscribe to Bitch and Bust. How could I explain the Vogue? She offered up the following point: as long as I am reading with a critical eye, how feminist is it to limit my own enthusiasms based on my husband’s approval?


So this year I carried my 4 lb. September Vogue to the Barnes & Noble counter with pride – not hidden beneath a stack of car magazines like a guy buying a Penthouse. I didn’t even try to hide it from my daughter. (If it’s okay for her to like imaginary dragons, it’s okay for me to like impossible dresses.) And I left it right out in the open, on my bed, where I’d been reading it when the dryer buzzed. And I prepped myself with my non-answer, because I knew he’d ask. Why did I buy it? Because I wanted to. That is feminist enough.

Speaking of Bitch and Bust, I offer Vag Magazine.

A funny, biting send up of pop culture feminist magazines. Produced by The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, this web series gently mocks those magazines’ sometimes vague, strident, crafty, celebrity-heavy, pop-culture feminism. *Hides knitting behind back* Think Portlandia for feminist mags. “Horses are tools of the patriarchy.”


12 Responses to “The September Vogue”

  1. Melissa August 24, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Am I now on Mr. Iris’s shitlist?

    • Darlene August 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

      I doubt it. He doesn’t seem too annoyed with me, either, but he has issues with my post. I have encouraged him to reply online.

  2. Mr. I. August 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    I’d describe it as more of an “imploring sigh” than a snarl. I mainly have one rule for the rest of the world: Be nice to Mrs. Irises. And I look at these glossy pictures and think: Mean! So mean and snobby! These people are trying to make you feel insecure (and you know how often and how thoroughly they have succeeded) in order to sell you more stuff. That’s cruel. Hence the sigh (snarls are purely reserved for Enemies of Mrs. I.).
    @Melissa: I’ll totally have to turn you in to the Girl Police. :-)

    • Darlene August 25, 2011 at 10:47 am #

      I don’t disagree. I believe that there is absolutely negative advertising at play here, and obviously it works — to an extent. “Your life is not good enough as it is. You need this Dolce and Gabbana bag to feel complete.” Too much of that can be harmful. And as Holly mentioned too (below), the demographics served by these magazines are so tiny — thin, rich, young, white women. Anyone who enjoys them must be aware and critical of that, but it is possible to enjoy them for what they are: a form of entertainment in the same vein as a movie or book, maybe. They are artistic, beautiful and inspiring — a form of expression unlike any other. While I’m not likely to actually buy any haute couture anytime soon, I enjoy seeing what’s being done with fashion.

  3. Holly August 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    As a fashion-obsessed feminist who subscribes to Bust, Bitch, AND Vogue (its siren song captures me not only in September but all year round!), I so love this post! Fashion so clearly has so many terrible classist/racist/body image implications for women… yet I still think that there are ways in which we can take something like Vogue (all about rich, white, hyper-thin women) and turn it into something more subversive and empowering. I always feel inspired after reading it… the sheer beauty on display, and the possibility of thinking about clothes as a kind of feminine art and self-expression, I find delightful, and positive. I’ve written about fashion and feminism on my blog, too–it’s something of an obsession of mine:

    Thanks for the post!

    • Melissa August 24, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

      Yep, what Holly said. I also think that, at its best, fashion can be about artistry, craftsmanship, and the absolute joy of beautiful colors, fabrics, shapes—pure aesthetics. And there are fashionistas doing good—working for sustainable labor practices, earth-friendly materials and fabrics, etc. (though that is not the main course in fare such as Vogue, however often it may get a passing mention). I enjoy Vogue for good photography, the occasional good article (I always enjoy when they profile contemporary artists, including many women), the inspiration, and if nothing else, the recycled material for my collage work.

    • Darlene August 25, 2011 at 11:12 am #

      I love your post, Holly (and I love your blog, too). You capture the complicated relationship we smart feminists have with fashion, and touch on the very thing Mr. Irises was trying to highlight: in the past, trying to keep up with fashion ideals has exacerbated my rather negative self-image. When I was younger, I understood fashion to be a set of rules I was supposed to conform to but just physically could never meet. I felt eternally wrong.

      Learning to love the artistic, inspiring side of fashion without translating it into a criticism of my own body has been a long process. Years ago, I learned to sew simply because I couldn’t find fashionable clothing to fit my body. I learned to accessorize. Now I can appreciate the technical energy and inspiration that goes into fashion design, and maybe just by virtue of being older, I can better negotiate what works for me and what just doesn’t. Fashion is more fun now.

  4. Bekkah August 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    Great article. I love looking at the September issue of Vogue. Although I can not wear the clothing in the magazine, I DO get (good) ideas from it. I also love shiny, pretty things. I can’t help myself.

  5. Danielle S. August 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    I have my own magpie tendencies…as I look again and again at Anthropologie’s ruffled shirts and jewel hued dresses. I used to watch VH1’s fashion show with my best “girl”friend Ryan in high school. There is a certain amount of fantasy and folklore invested in clothing. Clothing can tell us tales and it’s fun to let our imaginations run away.

    I’ve been inspired by all the pics of the Alexander McQueen show at MOMA. Jeff Vandermeer wrote a particularly interesting entry about his experience of the exhibit. I don’t think it’s terrible to indulge our fantasies…but I do agree with Mr. Iris that the fashion industry has much to be accountable for as well. Why can’t all body shapes be garbed in luscious fabrics? Why can’t designers see this as a challenge and destiny to find shapes, fabrics, styles to suit us all?

    Relevant link to Jeff Vandermeer’s entry:

    • Darlene August 25, 2011 at 11:20 am #

      Oooh — thank you for that link, Danielle. That’s a wonderful perspective on high fashion — appreciating it as artistry. I loved this line: “For the first time, I had the sense of fashion as actual narrative, along with the idea of micro-fictions hiding in the details of the clothes.” It reminded me that in former days I would look through the magazines and find some of the more evocative photographs and craft stories around them.

      Mr. I and I used to do that with with catalogs too, actually. We did it together with J.Crew all the time, but one day he did it to an Anthropologie without my knowledge, leaving me a catalog marked up with word balloons featuring models saying things like “Why am I so bored when I’m so well dressed and surrounded by beautiful things?” and “I’m so hungry.”

  6. Nina Badzin September 6, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    #1. Your blog redesign looks great! I always covet Bueno, but I usually don’t make the switch.

    #2. I have the same guilt with the occasional US Weekly purchase. At least Vogue has some writerly merit. There’s not good excuse for the celeb rags.

    • Darlene September 6, 2011 at 10:54 am #

      *Laughing* I love looking through those in check out lines, but not while my little girl is with me. She can read already, and is always asking me what the headlines are about. :)

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