Battle Of The Fashion-Mag Upstarts: InStyle Vs. Lucky

It's late August, time when the mail guy needs a forklift to deliver the September issues of women's fashion mags.

InStyle and Lucky, the two nontraditional young babes in this category, are no exception. Both sport a seasonally chubby look, along with their sisters on the newsstand (but with the recession, no one is trumpeting "Biggest issue ever!").

Though the two pubs were begun with different formulas -- InStyle, in 1993, focusing on celebrity fashion; Lucky, in 2001, as a shopping magalog -- each has evolved to share traits of the other. Lucky now has a monthly celeb cover story. But InStyle recently became much, um, Luckier, with, among other changes, a catalog-like shopping section and what seems a less worshipful, more analytic take on celeb dressing.

How do the two compare now?

Star power: At Lucky, the editors are the stars, with many introducing their own monthly "obsessions" (that annoying word that makes you realize that fashion editors live in another world, where buying can be an addiction). InStyle is now borrowing this technique to less cloying "backstage at the fashion mag" effect, as in the really helpful August feature where fashion director Cindy Weber Cleary explains how readers can do a classic minimalist look.

Most Lucky fashion case histories involve ordinary folks and women in the fashion/beauty worlds; InStyle has likewise begun case histories of non-stars. In one feature, fashion and talent agency executives explain how they change their style "From Work to Weekend."

You, too, can be beyootiful: Lucky gets points for a beauty story that hasn't been done to death before: clear instructions on how to apply the new generation of false eyelashes.

InStyle's shot at a how-to story, on blow-drying, is not as straightforward (it mentions "a paddle" without explanation) or original.  And the mag stumbles into clichés and quackery (a recommendation for appetite controllers "that can help cut caloric intake up to 30 percent daily"?) when venturing into diet-tip territory -- a world that Lucky has, perhaps wisely, avoided.

Yes, dahling, readers actually have to pay for their clothes, dept.: As a longtime reader, I've watched as the average price point for Lucky clothes rose to an aspirationally ridiculous beachhead of $300 or so. Now, in what's a supposedly cheap chic column, the teensy miniskirt shown retails for $125. Sure, it's nice to look at gorgeous designer clothes, but it's dispiriting not to be able to afford most of what I'm seeing, especially since the mag is meant to inspire the shopping impulse.

InStyle has a bit more latitude, because aspiration is built into its very nature -- aren't we supposed to drool over the expensive clothes stars are wearing? Still, in its coverage of jewelry (a strong point for years), the mag has democratically provided a range of prices, from low-cost to stratospheric.

Everybody's not a size 4, dahling, dept.: Lucky's long-running "What works for me?" column spotlights a real-life woman with qualms about a particular body part, modeling three outfits designed to flatter. This is the closest the mag has come to showing anyone even slightly heavy - and in that case, the model's only deviation from stick-figurehood was in her slightly bulging calves.

In InStyle, the likes of Jennifer Hudson and Queen Latifah have pushed Hollywood further than the fashion world -- both voluptuous singers have been featured, along with fashion stories that include plus-sized jean choices.

I think Lucky should hire an incredibly chic size-16 editor, pronto, who can report on the ups and downs of getting designers to do plus-sized collections. 

Lucky's irritating habit that InStyle is now copying: having quotes from real people that are too detailed and fashion-insidery to be anything but the editor's take. In the September InStyle, movie star Paula Patton is quoted as saying, "With bold gold jewelry, pink says regal queen rather than pretty princess." Yeah, right.

Bottom line: By backing slightly away from red carpet coverage, InStyle more helpfully approaches the average reader's non-voyeuristic "what should I wear?" concerns. Lucky should follow up with cheaper fashion -- and take a walk on the wide side by featuring, gasp, real-life-sized women.


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