Victorian Vogue

The historic beginnings of present ideals......

In her editor's letter of the April 2014 issue of US Vogue, editor Anna Wintour states that Vogue has a long tradition of following those who are defining popular culture at a particular time referring to the publication's habit of featuring the current 'it' musician or celebrity within its pages or on its cover.  However, this tradition is not a relatively modern phenomenon linked to society's current interest with celebrities nor is it due to the changing face of popular culture over the last 50 years.  In fact, it can be traced back to Vogue's very beginning in the early 1890s and the origin of the magazine's name.

First issue of Vogue - 1892

Fashion Magazines - The Beginning

The first women's fashion magazines can be traced back to the Ladies Mercury which appeared as early as 1693 (Kondratiev 2010).  By the 18th century, there was an emergence of society magazines aimed at an upper class readership (Breward 2003).  These magazines were seen as a key source for fashionable information (Breward 2003) and the reading of such magazines was seen to be a marker of good taste (Kondratiev 2010).  The magazines featured illustrations of garments, known as fashion plates, which would depict clothes seen as desirable by the magazine's aristocratic readership.  The garments would be shown on models who were illustrated in a respectable manner as magazines additionally functioned as etiquette guides.  The fashion plates served as a visual accompaniment to the gossip and society columns which made up the written element of the magazine (Breward 2003). 
Fashion plate from Italian magazine, 'Corriere delle Dames' - 1825

The Inception of Vogue

The first issue of Vogue appeared on 17th December 1892.  It was founded by New Yorker, Arthur Baldwin Turnure, a socialite who aimed the publication at wealthy aristocratic Americans with the idea of showcasing the "ceremonial side of life" (Smith 2014).  Baldwin Turnure hired Josephine Redding to be the first editor and she was tasked with the duty of finding a name for the magazine.  Redding is rumoured to have flicked through a dictionary until she found a name which she thought fitted the publication.  She settled on Vogue, a word used to define something which is in fashion or popular at a certain time (Basye 2010)  Vogue, then a weekly affair, was not 100% fashion focused.  In addition to fashion related articles, its regular features reflected the cultural tastes of upper class Victorian society such as their love of music (Vogue 1893).

Arthur Baldwin Turnure, Vogue Founder

Victorian Musical Pastimes

The Victorian world was very limited in terms of reproducing music at home.  Victorians were fond of producing their own music at home and more affluent Victorians were able to purchase pianos for their parlours particularly as they were becoming increasingly more affordable.  This created a demand for piano sheet music.  Opera and operettas were hugely popular amongst the upper classes who appreciated high-art music (Bashford 2007).  The variety style performances seen at music halls were highly popular in later Victorian times.  However, they were the preference of the lower classes viewed by the more refined upper class as vulgar and immoral.  However, by the 1890s this precedent was changing and there was a firm attempt made to attract a better class of audience (V&A 2014).  Vaudeville was the American equivalent of music hall (Britannica 2013). 

Vogue Music

The influences of Victorian musical tastes is evident in early issues of Vogue.  The love of reproducing their own music is featured in articles regarding the music rooms of socialites and, adverts for music journals featuring music suitable for the "home circle" (Vogue 1893). 

Illustration of socialite's Mrs. Henry de Coppet's music room - Vogue 1.8, 1893

Advert for Musical Notes journal - Vogue 1.1, 1892
Operas were a key feature with gossip columns, such as "Seen on the Stage" and  "Playhouse Gossip", discussing issues such as who will be writing the next up and coming opera.  Reviews of operas were illustrated with drawings of the stage costumes alongside the text as documented below. 

'Seen on Stage' review of La Cigale - Vogue 1.6, 1893

Fiction played a large part of early fashion magazines and the Victorian love of music was often serialised in these short stories as seen in the extract from the August 19th 1893 issue featured below.  This short story is regarding a Countess, known as Madame Y, attending a night at the opera with her husband. 

'At the Opera Francaise - The Valkyre' short story feature - Vogue 2.8, 1893

However, not all Vogue's musical articles catered to its readers high-brow art tastes.  Despite its lower class connotations, vaudeville was a hot topic of discussion amongst Vogue readers after the publication of an article debating the morality of vaudeville clubs.  One reader, inspired by the piece, wrote to the editor stating that vaudeville was not immoral and the performers were hard working and honest while concluding that "no woman or child can ever be injured witnessing a good, clean variety show" (Vogue 1.4, 1893). 

Articles like the one regarding vaudeville's morality show that even from its early issues Vogue has encouraged debate amongst its readership regarding the latest trends in popular culture.  As Anna Wintour writes in this month's issue, one of the ways in which Vogue retains its integrity is by sticking close to its original Victorian ideals of the magazine, by following those who define popular culture at that particular time, even if that culture does not cater completely to the Vogue readership taste.  By sticking to these ideals, Wintour keeps the magazine at the forefront of popular culture debate like Josephine Redding did, nearly 122 years before her. 

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