First Cover of Harper’s Bazaar Magazine


Fig. 1, Carla Rioux, (2014), Magazine First Cover Harper’s Bazaar – 1867 [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed 25 February 15].

Extract from a thesis written by Sofia Arvanius for her final year studying for a BA in Visual Communication titled How has the image of women changed over time in the fashion magazine industry in America, looking specifically at the covers of the US magazine, Vogue, between the years of its first publication in 1892 until the present day?

According to its website, Harper’s Bazaar is the oldest, continuously published fashion magazine in the world. (Bazaar, 2006) First published in 1867, it celebrated its 140th birthday in 2007. It was initially set up by Mary Louise Booth as an illustrated journal which was produced weekly and talked about fashion, gardening, the world of art, polite etiquette and other domestic wonders, with the first ever issue being dedicated to fashion and literature. Booth sought to publish a journal that was to act as ‘a repository of fashion, pleasure and instruction’ as the Harper’s Bazaar tagline read. Ali Basye wrote in his article ‘The Stories Behind the Styles’ about how Harper’s Bazaar arrived on the newspaper stands quietly without fuss and was sent out in the mailboxes of select ladies of society. In those early years, the magazine featured many different styles of the logo with a slightly shorter spelling of the name; Harper’s Bazaar. In the first few decades of its existence, the journal wrote about everything from avant-garde fashions to running a country home, where to get the best gowns, the social season and how to behave, and the art of facial expressions. As a magazine targeting women and writing about popular cultures of the time, it offers insight into the values and the role of women of that time. (Bazaar, 2006) (Basye, 2010)

In figure 1 (fig.1), we see the first cover produced by the magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, published on Saturday, 2nd November, 1867 in New York. It was printed with black ink on white paper, as printing technologies at that time did not yet allow for coloured printing. The cover is broken up into three sections; the top, where the logo is situated, the middle where a series of head decorations are shown, and the bottom of the cover, where two women are dressed in long flowing wedding dresses. The magazine is clearly targeting a female audience, with its illustration of bonnets and wedding dresses, as described on the cover. Furthermore, under the heavily decorated logo we see the Harper’s Bazaar tagline ‘a repository of fashion, pleasure and instruction’. This tag-line hints at what was considered to be entertaining for woman of this time; housekeeping and domestic tasks, gardening, sowing, being presented with good etiquette, looking well and social status.

According to a Cliff Notes article, ‘Changes in American Society’, the legal role of women in society in America in the 1860’s was largely the same as it had been in the colonial period. Women were still expected by society to stay at home and create a clean and nurturing environment, while men went out to work, brought in an income and dealt with the outside world. (Notes, 2014)

The women in the middle of the magazine cover are presented wearing various types of hats as part of the ‘Fall bonnets’ trend. The bonnets are decorated with lace, floral details and decorative bows. This magazine is clearly targeting middle and upper-class women who would have been the type of people who were able to afford magazines at the time since less well-off women of the 1860’s would not have the disposable income to spend on magazines. The two women towards the bottom of the cover are gracefully posed to show off their wedding dresses which have the long sleeves and high neckline fashionable at the time. According to the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Massachusetts, the practice of a white wedding dress would not become standard until the late 19th century. Overall we are given an image of a middle- to upper-class woman whose place in society is within her household. The image of the woman portrayed here has a sweet and elegant persona who enjoys leisurely pursuits such as gardening and household tasks, as well as being up-to-date on the latest fashions. (Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, 1999)


Basye, A. (2010). Hang Onto Your Pearls: The Little Black Dress is Born. Available: Last accessed 10 Nov 2014.
Cliffs Notes, (2014). Changes in American Society . Available: Last accessed 25 Feb 2015.
Harper’s Bazaar Staff. (2006). The First 30 Years: 1867-97. Available: Last accessed 25 Feb 2015.
Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Massachusetts. (1999). Wedding Dress. Available: Last accessed 25 Feb 2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s