Recently, we came across a copy of the May 1986 issue of Elle magazine. How does it compare to the May 2010 issue of Elle? What has changed — and what hasn't — in the last 24 years?
First, there's the cover. The 1986 issue features model Bonnie Berman. Berman was on quite a few covers in her time, but not a household name like some of the supermodels of the '90s. But in 1986, a pretty face and some interesting cover lines ("Secrets To Fresh French Beauty") were all it took to sell a ladymag.
Also, you can't tell from this scan, but when holding the actual magazine, you can see Bonnie Berman's freckles and moles. She is not Photoshopped into a poreless mannequin.
In 2010, most mainstream women's magazines rely on celebrities to "sell" the product. This cover — starring Fergie — is more edgy and creative than some, but that's because it's the one which goes directly to subscribers. The newsstand cover is much more straightforward. Magazines are struggling financially, so editors and publishers feel safer is better. But it's also boring.
(Also, this cover is an ad for Poreless Mannequins R Us.)
In 1986, the celebrity features were tucked inside the magazine. Here, Charotte Lewis — "discovered" by Roman Polanski and then appearing in the Eddie Murphy flick The Golden Child, is given a few pages of photos and an interview. But unlike today's celebrities, she is not exactly treated as a replacement for a fashion model.
One thing striking about these photos? How Lewis looks directly into the camera.
In Fergie's 2010 shots, she does not make eye contact.
From 1986: Lots to love here: A piece on Sean Penn "and his wife Madonna" is interrupted by an ad for Regine's, a legendary NYC nightclub. The floor was plexiglass with built-in heartshaped neon, and rich and famous folks like Paloma Picasso, Jackie Onassis and Andy Warhol were devotees.
1986: Sweaters, a fashion trend anyone could try — unlike, say, Louboutins.
In the feature well, things get really interesting: There's a playfulness and spark in this 1986 fashion spread about prints. Also, there is a black model. On the opening page of the first major fashion shoot.
The 1986 shoot also featured a redhead! An actual attempt at diversity! And a general sense of joy.
2010: A beautiful — yet somber — shoot opens the feature section of the magazine. In addition, this young lady seems noticeably thinner than the models of 1986. Guess what else? There are no black models in the fashion features of the May 2010 issue of Elle. Zero.
If you get the sense that the 1986 models are having more fun or look stronger, perhaps some of it has to do with the fashion. Not only is there a very chic elegance happening in many of these images — the women are sexy without showing a lot of skin.
Fashion editors can't always do location shoots, so sometimes it's just a model on a "greige" background. These days, in order to make the images more interesting, the models are often required to jump. But in 1986, the model here used different expressions and attitudes to make every shot different, and didn't look like she was trying to shatter her ankles.