On November 2, 1867, Harper’s Bazaar became the first fashion magazine published in the United States. With the tagline, “A Repository of Fashion, Pleasure and Instruction,” Harper’s Bazaar would revolutionize women’s magazines and the fashion world. Now published in 32 countries, Harper’s Bazaar continues to be a leader in the fashion magazine industry.
The already successful book publishers, Harper and Brothers, founded the magazine after the youngest Harper brother, Fletcher, was inspired to replicate a German magazine, Der Bazar, for an American audience. With elaborate woodcuts of fashions from Paris, London and Vienna, Fletcher learned that Der Bazar managed to publish duplicates of these images by creating agreements with other publishers who owned them from around the world.
Publishing Harper’s Bazaar in 1867 was a well-timed venture. There was a growing group of affluent women in the United States, whose wealth had been attained during the Industrial Revolution. This new leisure class was looking for a guide on how to successfully – and stylishly – navigate high society in the modern age.
In the first issue, the mission of the magazine was described as functioning as “a vast repository for all the rare and costly things of earth – silks, velvets, cashmeres, spices, perfumes, and glittering gems; in a word, whatever can comfort the heart and delight the eye.” Aside from showcasing the latest fashions from Germany and Paris for its middle and upper class readers, the magazine also included interior decorating tips, domestic arts and craft and fiction/essays from famous writers of the day, like Charles Dickens and Henry James.
Even before the first issue, the Harper brothers wanted to hire the best person to head up the editorial content. Writer, journalist and translator Mary Louise Booth was hired as the first editor-in-chief. Aside from translating a French anti-slavery tract into English, receiving praise from Abraham Lincoln for her efforts, she had been one of the first female reporters for The New York Times. During Booth’s time at the helm of the magazine, Harper’s Bazaar’s circulation grew to 80,000 within a decade. Although Fletcher did not want the magazine to address politics, Booth convinced him that to be fully fashionable, one had to be “forward thinking.” This explanation allowed her to make Harper’s Bazaar become the first mainstream magazine to endorse suffrage in their July 12, 1869 issue. They reinforced this message with other articles about the importance of work and education for women, while featuring feminist fashions of the day, like tailored dresses and jackets.
In 1933, Carmel Snow took on the editor-in-chief role for the magazine. The former Vogue editor brought her adventurous spirit and eye for talent to Harper’s Bazaar. During her first year at the magazine, Harper’s Bazaar made fashion history when they published the first “spontaneous photo fashion shoot” of a model running in swimwear on a Long Island beach, taken by photojournalist, Martin Munkácsi.
After 150 years in print, the magazine has had its share of famous editors throughout the twentieth century, including Diana Vreeland and Richard Avedon. In a recent interview, Harper’s Bazaar’s current editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey shared her vision for the magazine, not much unlike the original 1867 mission: “Harper’s Bazaar is not just about hemlines, it is about headlines. It is our job to create incredible ideas that nobody has ever seen before, and to produce images that are so striking that you will never forget them.”