On March 26, 1874, publisher Condé Nast was born. A successful advertising executive for Collier's, he introduced the concept of "class publications" or "lifestyle magazines." While other publishers focused on circulation numbers, Nast targeted groups of readers by income level or common interest. Nast purchased Vogue in 1909 and House and Garden in 1913. In 1914, he introduced Vanity Fair. Each publication explored current trends in fashion, the arts, politics, and entertainment.
While few can afford the clothing displayed on the pages of Vogue, Americans traditionally uphold the right to dress as fashionably as possible. In his essay "Are Women Natural Aristocrats?," Thomas Wentworth Higginson recalls a British minister's wife who prescribed plain dress for the "lower classes." He contrasts her view with the American position on personal adornment:
"The American clergyman and clergyman's wife who should even "recommend" such a costume to a schoolmistress, church-singer, or Sunday-school girl,-to say nothing of the rest of the "lower orders,"-would soon find themselves without teachers, without pupils, without a choir, and probably without a parish The Sunday bonnet of the Irish damsel is only the symbol of a very proper effort to obtain her share of all social advantages. Long may those ribbons wave!"
Traditionally, maintaining a stylish appearance is a burden that falls more heavily on women. Writing to her future husband, Alexander Graham Bell, in 1877 Mabel Hubbard jested:
"You gentlemen have no idea how much trouble and weariness it costs only to get the material for the dresses you so much admire. I had no idea how much the bright dresses of women relieve our sombre streets. We went down to the part of the city devoted exclusively to the men, where women never come, and such a shabby dull looking affairs the men were. I should think they would get sick of their own society."
As Mabel Hubbard noted, in our culture the female tends to be more a colorful dresser than the male. Yet, men hardly ignore the latest styles as these photographs amply demonstrate. The young western dudes pictured below were no doubt proud of their glossy fur coats which made a fashion statement in addition to protecting against frigid North Dakota winters.
Resource: Library of Congress, American Memory, March 26th