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How to Read a Fashion Magazine

By Diana Pemberton-Sikes

When I recently advised a client to study a few fashion magazines to glean some ideas for the upcoming season, she flatly refused.

"I HATE those things!" she told me vehemently. "Skinny girls, expensive clothes - what does that have to do with my life? Nothing!"

Now since this isn't the first time I've heard this argument, I realized that she was missing the point of the exercise - much like the women who tell me that VOGUE or W are "their bibles." In this corner, we have someone who's way too caught up in her own reality; in the other, we have someone who's much too caught up in someone else's. Let's all move a bit more to the center and learn how to read these things properly, shall we? We'll all dress a lot better for it.

Let's start with a little dissection first, then move on to the "how to" part of the lesson.

THE MODELS

Overall, fashion magazines tend to show young, thin, attractive people in their pages for the exact same reason that grocers tend to polish their apples and car dealers tend to have you test drive clean cars: because it sells more. It's as simple as that. Fashion Marketing 101. Whether you agree with it or not is beside the point; it works -- VERY well.

So well, in fact, that somewhere along the line, many women went from trying to determine whether the clothing being shown would work well on their bodies to bemoaning the fact that their bodies don't look like the mannequins. Let me let you in on a secret: those girls don't look like that every day, either. They have an army of people to get the hair, makeup, clothes, and lighting just right. If that doesn't work, they airbrush the photos to get the right look. And if the model packs on a few pounds or starts to show signs of ageing, she's replaced. Nothing like being a "has been" by the age of 30, eh?

What a shame that so many teenage girls and women have allowed the slick marketing to muddle their thinking and impact their self esteem. Don't be one of them. Look at the clothes and the mood that the picture evokes; don't compare yourselves to the mannequins.

THE SETTINGS

In fashion magazines, you'll often see a beautiful girl in gorgeous clothes in an enviable setting surrounded by handsome men. If only, right? Well, that's part of the marketing. It's called projecting, and if you've ever envisioned yourself swapping places with the gal in the picture, the marketers have done their job. It's a set up. A complete fabrication. A ruse. Remember that the next time you see a shot that makes you want to rush right out and buy the clothes you see so you can be just like the girl in the picture.

THE ADS

Ever wonder why you see so many high end designers advertising in fashion magazines and why the fashion magazines, in turn, show so many of those same designers in their editorial photo spreads? It's no coincidence. Those one-page ads are VERY expensive, often costing tens of thousands (or more), depending on the magazine's circulation. So the fashion houses don't spend all their advertising dollars in one place. Oh, no.

They'll put a portion of their budget into ads, a portion into lending clothes to magazines for photo shoots, and a portion into creating clothes for celebrities for red carpet and other media events. That way, they spread the name recognition around. It's clever - and expensive. But it works. If you love labels and see a look you like in a couple of fashion magazines and on a favorite celebrity, wouldn't you be more inclined to buy it if you had the money? Many are. A look through the society pages will tell you as much.

THE LESSON

So now that we've addressed the models, ads, and editorial spreads, here's what you SHOULD be looking for when you read a fashion magazine (and yes, it's okay to rip out pages and put them in a file for future reference - but only if you own the magazine!):

1. The Trends

Fashion magazines will call them "must have" items, but look at trends skeptically to see whether they fit your body, clothing personality, and lifestyle. Don't worry about the price. If you find something you like and want to wear, look for an inexpensive version of the trend at your favorite discount or outlet store. Buy cheap, wear often, and discard when then trend is over.

2. The Updated Classics

Most women recognize that classic styles are a good value, and fashion magazines know this. So they'll show trendy new ways to wear classic styles and give you plenty of ideas in the process. All you have to do is take a moment to break it down to see how you can apply this to your own closet.

3. The Designers

If you have a "thing" for designer labels, high end fashion magazines (Vogue, W, Marie Claire, Town and Country) are a great place to learn about the different fashion house philosophies. Even if you can't afford those brand names, don't fret. If you find a look you really like, you'll probably be able to find it a little later in the season in a budget-friendly copy-cat version.

4. Styling Ideas

Styling refers to the way the clothing and accessories are presented in a picture. Look at how the clothes are layered, draped, or wrapped. Look at how the jewelry is worn. See what they did with the bag and shoes. Look at the hair and other accessories. If you see something you like, try creating a similar look with pieces from your own closet. You'll be surprised how you can breathe new life into your old standbys just by wearing them a different way.

5. Hair and Makeup

Are you in a hair and makeup rut? Peruse a few fashion magazines to see what's hot for the season. Not only will you glean some new looks, you may discover that a new 'do may be all you need to look "au currant" this year.

Fashion magazines are a great way to learn all about what's happening in fashion AS LONG AS you remember that they're created to sell clothes and accessories. Forget about the models and the price tags and focus instead on the clothes, trends, and styling ideas that might work for you. Then copy or adapt them to your own budget and lifestyle. Before you know it, you may look like you stepped out of a fashion magazine - whatever your age, shape, size, or budget.

About The Author

Diana Pemberton-Sikes is a wardrobe and image consultant and author of "Wardrobe Magic," an ebook that shows women how to transform their unruly closets into workable, wearable wardrobes. Visit her online at www.fashionforrealwomen.com.


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