Girl Trouble

‘Mademoiselle’ Buried; ‘Bazaar’ Resurrected

Will anyone mourn the late Mademoiselle? Folded after 66 years, the last issue had the bad luck to hit newsstands almost immediately after the worst attack in American history, though that can hardly be the whole reason for its demise. The turquoise and pink cover, awash with the lameness that afflicts most 'women's' magazines, bills the typical mix of the prosaic ('Your New Haircut Starts Here"), the lurid ("Cadee Condit: Why I'm Sticking by My Dad"), and the deeply conventional ("Engagement Special—Yes! Yes! Yes!"). Inside, there's a list of products purportedly favored by the late Natalie Wood's daughter, and a picture spread of Julia Stiles and Catherine Zeta-Jones sporting a hairdo the magazine calls a demi-ponytail.

Mademoiselle's last cover girl is Keri Russell, an actress who used to be on a show called The All New Mickey Mouse Club and now plays Felicity, an NYU student with a roiling love life, on the WB television show of the same name. If plenty of readers would love to trade places with someone playing a student rather than stay in school themselves, this was most assuredly not the case when Mademoiselle, once a highly regarded magazine, was founded. In its heyday, Mademoiselle did not spend its time telling you how to look like an actress or a model. These unseemly careers, associated in the public imagination with nudity, casting couches, leering directors, and photographers with greasy hands (in polite society, model was a euphemism for whore), were the polar opposite of the métiers the Mademoiselle girl had in mind.

The Mademoisellegirl wore a cashmere twin set and lived in a dorm with a curfew; she got a degree, suffered the ignominy of learning to type, killed a few years working someplace like an art gallery or a publishing house, and then achieved her true goal: marriage. This unvarying script had an iron grip on social life, repeated for decades not just in magazines but in novels, movies, TV shows, and plays until the late 1960s, when the curfew was permanently lifted. (Invitation to readers: If you can think of one American movie made before 1965 where the heroine is allowed to live a happy life without benefit of husband and/or children, please e-mail this column.)

The suffocating world Mademoisellewas born into has faded into oblivion, and good riddance. But it's a shame that what was best about the original Mademoiselle—its willingness to acknowledge the intellectual aspirations of its readers (the magazine once published Truman Capote and Carson McCullers)—has vanished as thoroughly as bobby socks and circle pins. Like its sisters—Jane, Glamour—who survive it, Mademoiselledied trying to serve a modern reader who herself is torn in a dozen contradictory directions at once. If the marriage-minded college girl of Mademoiselle's early days was schooled to be reasonably well-groomed and well-read, her successor is expected to look like a model, pursue a brilliant career, be hot in bed, and still spend untold hours trying to snag a husband.

In its attempt to please this combination of Britney Spears and Madeleine Albright, the magazine took the low road. "Is Your Job Sabotaging Your Sex Life?" queries one article in Mademoiselle's last issue. As if you don't have enough to worry about, "Plan Dates for When You Ovulate!" is the suggestion made by another piece, but not so you'll get knocked up—the article alleges that "you feel more beautiful when you ovulate." "You Conform? Hell, No" is the headline extolling the virtue of "being yourself at work," with no nod to the ominous consequences that can attend this strategy. Is it any wonder Mademoisellelost its way, preaching to women who've been told that to be happy they need to sport a diamond engagement ring on the fist that holds a bulging briefcase?

Just as it was hearing its exit music, the equally anachronistically named Harpers Bazaarwas debuting a new editor—Glenda Bailey, imported from Marie Claire. In recent years, Bazaarhas been the Pepsi to Vogue's Coke, offering a similar if weaker brew of what Anna Wintour has on tap: an unspoken contempt for people who can't afford the prices of designer fashion, a giddy adulation of socialites and that reformed call girl, the model, and the odd pairing of a head-in-sand approach to social ills with the occasional worthy digression about, say, breast cancer treatments. Bailey's Bazaarthrows a bucket of cold water on those Blahnik pumps and Gucci pedal pushers. For the first time in its life, the magazine has stuff like a $35 shirt from the Gap, and, in a feature called "Luxe for Less," an $80 coat from Old Navy. (The hyperactive, super cheap Old Navy has been called many things, but luxe is not one of them.) Of course, like Mademoiselleand virtually every other magazine on the stands these days short of The Nation, the new Bazaarborrows from the highly successful, celebrity-besotted Instyle, telling readers where actresses buy their hairpins in the hopes that this will inspire you to buy them too. The obligatory page of party pictures is here, but now it not only shows you what Sofia Coppola and Sarah Jessica Parker are wearing, it tells you where you can buy the same outfit. (Oh, would that the magazine went just one step further and revealed that, unlike you, these starlets don't pay for the stuff they wear.)

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