Harper's Bazaar

by , Dec 9, 2005, 2:53 PM
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For years, Harper's Bazaar has been considered the quirky and thinner (in magazine speak, this is clearly not a good thing) stepsister to Vogue. When Glenda Bailey took over as editor in chief after Kate Betts was removed, insiders in the fashion world predicted that the magazine would become too cheeky and down-market because Bailey didn't have sophisticated enough taste. They could not have been more wrong. Rather than going down-market, Bailey has created an elegant, beautifully designed, and digestible read that makes the fashion elite accessible to women of all ages. This includes the always fun-to-read horoscope, which is cleverly placed in the front of the book.

One of the smartest aspects of the magazine is the table of contents, which is laid out by showing thumbnail photos of the editorial pages, a vital design element in a magazine dominated by fashion advertisements. The front of the book offers neatly laid-out fashion service pieces covering such topics as five secrets of the best-dressed, easy beauty tips, and gift and holiday-entertaining ideas from fashion insiders, but the feature well is where the magazine gets interesting.

Even if you don't care about the minutiae of dressing or fashion trends, this month's Bazaar is worth reading. After all, according to Maureen Dowd's feature story headlined "What's Appropriate Now," "feminism has been defeated by narcissism," and therefore, she astutely observes, women have to worry about the way they dress no matter what. "The rules about what you wear to be taken seriously are more muddled and confusing than ever," she writes. "You just have to be extremely careful about whether you stand out in a positive way, a negative way, or even a debatable way." Ironically, in the next feature over, notorious sexist womanizer Sean "Diddy" Combs offers a suspiciously sensitive and, dare I say, feminist comment on the way women dress. "The way I see it--and I could be wrong, so don't hold it against me--is that women dress for themselves; and there are times when they dress for men, and there are also times when they dress to compete with their girls." If these comments seem to be too focused on "the rules" of fashion, then there is also a refreshing feature on the art of party talk by Simon Doonan in which he says "there is one thing worse than gratuitous vulgarity, and that's mind-numbing appropriateness."

The fashion spreads are probably the least-inspired part of the book. There is a feature on the season's best "little black dresses," which I find mind-numbingly appropriate both in content and choice of topic--the little black dress is a boring classic that should be relegated to funerals. A feature called "The New Classics" looks a bit too much like a Ralph Lauren ad from the 80s. Although Bazaar hits the right notes when it comes to accessibility and design elegance, the magazine also edges on the too-bland. Now that Bailey has proven herself, I think her appropriateness could use a dash of the wild and avant-garde.

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