Fashion Mags Play the September Numbers Game

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olivia wilde glamour
Competing for attention: The September 2014 issue of Glamour

Yes, New York Fashion Week has shut up shop with its usual quota of bizarre outfits paraded on runways, most of which won’t step out onto your local thoroughfares anytime soon. For readers and not industry folks, however, the focus isn’t on spring looks, as soon to seen also in Paris, Milan and London, but on fall and winter with the annual September magazine issues keeping up the tradition of being the thickest.

Uh-huh, it’s the occasion for big-typeface numbers on covers to compete hilariously with one another. If you’re ready for them screaming gratingly at potential buyers from newsstands (that’s where this street walker saw them) before October issues hit any minute now, here they come:

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Elle (Kristen Stewart on the cover) weighs in with 664 pages that include “787 pieces and 12 top trends.” Harper’s Bazaar (Lady Gaga on the cover and looking ridiculous in a pink Chanel suit and teetering matching hat), weighs in with “798 New Looks to Buy Now.” Vogue (nine current hot models, Cara Delevingne the hottest, on the foldout cover) weighs in the weightiest with “856 pages of Spectacular Fall Fashion.” Marie Claire (Blake Lively on the cover) weighs in with “951 Ideas to Update Your Look.”

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And at the breathless numbers game, the winner is Glamour (Olivia Wilde on the cover) with “1001 Updates and Outfits to Live In.” That’s one for every night Scheherazade dreams up a new story to tell. If only she’d had access to this Glamour issue.

But just a cotton-pickin’ minute. Is Glamour the outright winner? Those 1001 updates and outfits are crammed onto a mere 374 pages, whereas Marie Claire has 452 pages, Harper’s Bazaar has 642 pages, Elle has 664 pages, and Vogue, as might be expected, takes this multi-tiered cake with those billboarded 856 pages.

Other counters—the ones toiling in advertising cubicles—are undoubtedly counting quite differently. They’re counting the ads, aren’t they? But at these tallies, I’m only going to speculate and say Vogue prevails. Who but those responsible for selling the ads as well as editors and publishers are likely to take the time to do that calculating?

It’s bad enough for a columnist with a deadline to thumb through the cumulative 2988 pages. Aside from checking whether Vogue and Elle have the number of pages they claim to have (they do), who in his or her right mind is going to check on Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and Marie Claire to see if they’re playing it straight or playing fast and loose with newsstand purchasers and subscribers about all those totaled looks and ideas and outfits and updates.

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What if I decided to call the Harper’s Bazaar editors to account and toted the 798 new looks and came up with 797? What if I counted again and came up with 799? What if I counted to 399 and then lost count and had to start again? The same questions apply to Marie Claire, only with the number adjusted accordingly. What about Glamour with its daunting 1001 updates and outfits?

A guy could go crazy. A gal could go off her rocker.

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vogue-sepetember-2014-cover
The biggest: The fold-out cover of the September 2014
issue of Vogue, photographed by Mario Testino / via
(Click to enlarge.)

Perhaps it’s needless to say, none of the high-class rags that regularly deal with high-class rags are likely to expect this kind of checking up. Undoubtedly they depend on no one’s actually counting, which makes the now long-term covers numbers racket something of a cynical marketing strategy.

Just a second. While not expecting readers to confirm the numbers are correct, it must be that they’re pulled from somewhere. At the ‘zines where only the ideas and outfits and looks is declared on the covers, there must be someone going through the imminent issues. Perhaps there’s even someone double-checking the first someone’s total.

Who are these drudges? Do they have to remember that if a skirt and blouse is featured in one image, that counts as two new looks? Or is it only one? And what are they thinking while accumulating looks, outfits, updates and ideas they may never be able to afford themselves?

Our hearts must go out to them.

I have to admit I’m not a regular reader of any of the women’s fashion magazines. (Note that it’s an “o” at the end of the byline above and not an “a.”) This isn’t to say I have no time for them. Well, literally, I may not, but I do have a regard for them. The editorial content, usually relegated to the way back of book, can be impressive.

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In its 856 pages Vogue includes an excerpt from Ian McEwen’s new novel, The Children Act, and runs it with a reproduction of an Alex Katz painting. I intend to read it, just as I might have read it in The New Yorker, where it could just as easily have appeared. And more than lip service (lip-sticked service?) is paid to other subjects like health.

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But having decided to crunch the numbers, I made time to examine the September issues. I peeped through conscientiously. I went through them if not literally to count the hullaballooed looks, certainly to look at those looks and estimate whether or not they added up to a close approximation of the blurted numbers. And I say, okay, sure, they’ve been delivered. But the whole thing still strikes me as awfully silly.

In closing, let me say I had it in mind that none of the numbers sales-strategy foolishness afflicts the men’s magazines. I had an explanation for this. Since women dress for other women, I was convinced they’re eager—yes, anxious—to know about the newest looks, outfits ideas. Men, I said to myself, don’t dress for men (or women). Granted, leather queens undoubtedly dress to impress other leather queens and drag queens dress to impress one another because they’re out to mimic women dressing to impress other women, but otherwise most men just dress in whatever uniform their field requires.

To confirm my fervent belief, I decided I’d better look at the covers of GQ and Esquire. All it took was a quick gander at GQ to discover how wrong I was. There to the right of cover boy Adam Driver was this banner: “The Big Fall Style Issue 46 Pages Full of Everything You Need to Face the Cool.”

I guess I know when I’m brought up short.