My mother loves to remind me that when I was learning to read, I used to pronounce Vogue as “Vog-way” (look at the word carefully and it kind of makes sense, right?). Granted, I couldn’t make it past the cover, but even so, my early impressions of the magazine as a phone book for women who liked to wear high heels weren’t so far off-base.
Every issue came brimming with stories to read and photo spreads to get lost in, but the covers told a story on their own. Last fall, Abrams published Vogue: The Covers, an anthology comprising over 120 years of cover images dating as far back as the magazine’s 1892 launch.
It’s hard not to get absorbed in every page charting the magazine’s progression from a bi-weekly publication with painted imagery, to the fountainhead of style that it is today, as well as the histories of what was considered “in vogue,” told through those covers.
Just looking at the last 30 years is a trip. First we have the 80s where everything was indeed larger than life, from the shoulder pads, to the cover girls’ faces. It wasn’t until Anna Wintour’s arrival in 1989 that the magazine pulled out and ditched the conventional headshot image to showcase the clothes as much as the girl wearing them (Wintour’s first cover was also the first Vogue cover featuring a model in jeans).
Then we had the 90s, a decade when the covers were the domain of supermodels. Seeing those images makes me think how overrated and easily bandied about the term “supermodel” has become these days. It’s arguable, but a good case can be made that Gisele is the only model of the new millennium who’s ever come close to matching and surpassing the critical mass produced and maintained by Cindy, Linda, Kate, Christy, Naomi, etc.
And in the 2000s, the model took a seat to another female icon: the actress or all-around celebrity, which of course comprises the issue’s main story inside its pages as well. It’s not to say that anyone really “knows” an actress once they’ve read a profile or interview, but that multidimensional appeal speaks to modern times and our transparency-based culture’s need to draw more from a cover’s two-dimensional image. Forever changing, but always what’s in vogue.