Harper’s Bazaar

Artwork by L. Bakst

Harper’s Bazar cover, 1915

For vintage fashionistas, there’s perhaps no better way to spend a relaxing afternoon than to flip through old magazine publications. It’s so much fun to see the best retro styles in their prime – and a treat to read people’s perspectives from yesteryear! As our experts have mentioned before, fashion runs parallel to cultural movements. As women grew more powerful in society, hemlines rose and fell, fabrics became less constricting or tailored (depending on the decade), and overall trends were more varied to respond to the independent female voice. Harper’s Bazaar has captured that journey since 1867. Learn more about this popular magazine – we guarantee you’ll look at recent editions in a different light knowing it’s presence is steeped in history.

A brief history of Harper’s Bazaar

Photographer, Toni Frissell

Model Lisa Fonssagrives, photographed for Harper’s Bazaar in 1951

One of the first things you’ve probably noticed is a slight name change. When the publication debuted in the mid-1800s, it was called Harper’s Bazar (just with one “a” thank you very much!) and it hit the marketplace, appealing to the sophisticated and fashion-hungry Victorian lady. Since it first appeared on newsstands, the magazine has been home to an amazingly talented group of people. The first editor, Mary Louise Booth, was a prolific writer and translator (in edition to a successful editor in chief). Booth was single-handedly responsible for translating a plethora of French books and novels into English. It’s amazing to think of her impact on our culture and our literary understanding.

Under Booth’s leadership, Harper’s Bazar showcased numerous illustrations and photographs. This image-centric approach was incredibly popular to the fashion conscious public. The magazine’s support of the suffrage movement and front-page articles on high-profile socialites showcased the amazing diversity of women in America. This perspective helped bring in 80,000 readers by the late 1800s.

Photographer, Toni Frissell

Peru photo shoot, 1952 for Harper’s Bazaar

Other talented people who have a Harper’s Bazaar connection include Carmel Snow, editor from the mid-1930s to late 1950s, whose adventurous spirit inspired some amazing photographs by Martin Munkácsi. These photos were groundbreaking because they captured movement and the excitement of the moment – gone were the days of the still life photo. The Harper’s Bazaar team wanted to create inspiring visual art. By showing clothes as they live, rather than as they look, their readers felt empowered by fashion. In contrast, other publications of the day showcased looks in a static setting.

Harper’s Bazaar wanted engagement and that sentiment was echoed by famed art director Alexey Brodovitch, photographer Richard Avedon, and fashion editor Diana Vreeland. Not only does their legacy live on in the pages of the magazine, but also in one of our favorite films, Funny Face. Many of Vreeland’s witty remarks are immortalized on film and Richard Avedon directly inspired Fred Astaire’s character, Dick Avery. Next time you watch this amazing movie, just keep in mind that in this case art really did imitate life!

Watch it today


Cause A Frockus would like to thank their tremendous resources: Wikipedia, Harper’s Bazaar, Britannica, and the people who post their imagery without restriction.

For our readers: What’s your favorite vintage fashion publication? Do you think that fashion really can be a mirror to society? Tell us your thoughts below…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments will be subject to approval by a moderator. Comments may fail to be approved or may be edited if the moderator deems that they:

  • contain unsolicited advertisements ("spam")
  • are unrelated to the subject matter of the post or of subsequent approved comments
  • contain personal attacks or abusive/gratuitously offensive language