The persistent fantasy of the fashion magazine job

My entire girlhood I spent obsessed with magazines, a journey I can map exactly: It started with furtively reading 16 and Bop and Teen Beat at the grocery store, ogling pictures of JTT and Devon Sawa. I had a subscription to American Girl, a magazine for elementary schoolers with advice about dealing with friend drama and instructions for craft projects. I remember one about how to make a tiny model of a barbecue grill. When I was 10, I discovered Twist, a (now long-defunct) alterna-teen mag with cover stars like Fiona Apple. In it I learned about summer jobs, birth control, and how to dress for my body type (I WAS 10). I soon had subscriptions to YM, Teen People, Cosmogirl, and Elle Girl. (RIP one and all.) I remember the 2003 Young Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair, where the cover story jokingly began, “Welcome to the launch party for Teen Vanity Fair.” I did not understand the irony and momentarily tried to find out where I could subscribe.

By my midteens I was on to Glamour, Jane, Vogue, and W, which I read cover to cover every month instead of doing my homework. Seeing an issue I had not yet gotten in the mail at the store would send me into such fits of covetousness that sometimes I would make my dad buy it for me, so I eventually had two copies. I reread my magazines and hoarded them, organizing them in a file cabinet that my parents supposedly still have in storage somewhere. I’m honestly afraid to ask about it.

In the hours I was reading my magazines I was fantasizing about making them, too. I have weird little pages in my childhood diaries where I invented fake teen pop stars and interviewed them. They were always dating hot celebrities like Paul Walker. The goal to work at a magazine seemed so natural — do what you love! — and I saw the dream of the magazine job modeled everywhere: in movies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and on TV, where The Hills’ Lauren Conrad got a job as an intern for Teen Vogue. I realize now that magazine jobs are also idealized by magazines themselves: Staffers were often the guinea pigs in their own stories, where they tried out fashion trends or weird beauty treatments or sex positions.

Vogue, especially, would feature pictures of their tan and classy editors who were learning to invest in art or work the season’s new skirt length into their wardrobes. The July 2017 issue of Vogue contains an article about a writer trying out pantsuits, wearing a pink Adam Lippes suit “to supper at Le Coucou” and a tartan suit by Racil “for a day at the races with friends.” It is common knowledge that the entire luxury industry is buoyed by the concept of aspiration, so selling a sophisticated lifestyle might mean promoting the idea of making a magazine as the chicest work imaginable.

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