Certainly not their size. Each month's issue of Vogue significantly beats Harper's Bazaar on the when-dropped-by-a-6-foot-model-onto-one's-head injury meter -- Vogue merits a concussion versus Bazaar's "ouch!" Which means Vogue wins the ad-page contest, too.
While the two mags have similar demographics, with a $10,000 difference in median household income (Bazaar's, at $68,807, is higher), they diverge in ad targets. With Kohl's and J.C. Penney's spreads in its April issue, Vogue is now reaching for the mass consumer. But wouldn't an ad for a $19.99 "smart pencil skirt" induce white-faced horror in the fashionista-socialite reader?
Here's how the two compare in other ways.
The editor's letter, or Anna vs. Glenda: Bazaar, C-; Vogue, B. Since all I knew of Vogue's Anna Wintour was as the model for the fictional hellhound in The Devil Wears Prada, I was mighty curious to see how she expressed herself on the page. (Actually, she gets two pages -- the only editor I've seen rate so much space.) Her April letter is a nicely crafted but less-than-scintillating essay on women's body image and eating disorders, with many multi-claused yet perfectly punctuated sentences. It's like a well-accessorized, but perhaps too ladylike suit. Wintour sounds smart and writes long -- two characteristics echoed throughout Vogue, the only fashion mag so dense with text.
Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey, meanwhile, sounds more personal and lively, but not as brainy. She starts her name-dropping in the second sentence ("by the time I knew her, Diana was already a fashion virtuoso") -- and doesn't let up until this nonsensical bit: "What better way to express your love than by making someone look and feel beautiful? Fashion designer Kai Milla and her husband, Stevie Wonder, spend their lives doing just that."(Huh? A blind man as beauty guru?) Bailey ends her letter with the cliché used by editors from Mortuary Today on up: "Enjoy the issue."
Fashion coverage: Bazaar, B; Vogue, A. Bazaar exemplifies its name by showcasing some bizarre fashion suitable only for gaping at: crystal-studded leggings; a short dress made entirely of feathers. One could argue that these are fashion-forward items showcasing ideas to be developed into more user-friendly versions. Still, for the Alexander McQueen dresses with padded hips to be wearable, society would have to completely revolutionize its beauty standards.
Vogue avoids the weirdest heights of fashion and does a better job at providing advice. Its "Shop By Shape" feature, in which women of varying body types (including, in what may be a historical moment, a size 16!) explain how they dress for utmost flattery, was more helpful than Bazaar's "Fabulous At Any Age" section. Vogue also brings beauty and fashion trends to life with some first-person accounts; in one, a woman tests out the theory that shoulder pads are coming back.
Features: Bazaar, C-; Vogue, B+. Bazaar's non-fashion pieces are mostly watered-down celeb profiles. The requisite major star profile, of Reese Witherspoon, isn't bad, but two other subjects (Lindsay Lohan's mom, and Princess Di's fashion sense) bring up just one question: who cares?
With its stylish writing and topics that move beyond fashion and Hollywood, the Vogue feature far surpasses Bazaar's. In keeping with the issue theme, there is exhaustive coverage of body image topics -- everything from the omnipresence of breast implants in certain surprising circles to how "7 Women Obsess Over Their Body Flaws."
Culture -- beyond movie stars -- is covered nicely, with features on theater, TV and books. A review of an Edith Wharton biography actually provides a good mini-bio of the esteemed novelist. The only fault in all this high-toned writing is the way some articles seem padded. I've enjoyed food writer Jeffrey Steingarten's thoughtful musings before -- but after five pages on how he hates the New York City ban on trans fats, I felt as if I were with a dinner party companion who wouldn't shut up.
Look of the book: Vogue, A; Bazaar, B+. Unlike with their words, the two mags don't differ much in the pictures category. Both feature gorgeous, artistic photos (like Vogue's moody, painting-like shot of model Paulina Porizkova and her sons), and use many different fonts and well-balanced layouts. I'd rate Bazaar a little lower for some questionable art direction. For example, full-bleed, facing photos have no visual relationship to each other.
Bottom line: Vogue outclasses Bazaar editorially but not graphically.
Published by: Condé Nast
Published by: Hearst