History of Fashion Photography in magazines

Up until the development of photography fashion had been recorded and displayed in some form of art medium such as paintings or drawings and presenting garments to both men and women to show and promote what the well-dressed fashionable people were wearing.

Photography of fashion started in the early years of photography.   Photography was developed as an accurate alternative to drawings, engravings or paintings. Fox Talbot a pioneer of photography called photography ‘Photogenic Drawing’ that did not require the use or skills of an artist, pencils, pens and paints.

Since the 1840s photographers have been taking pictures of actresses, dancers and debutantes posed in their fine clothes showing the fashions of the day.

Fashion can be limited to just clothes or costume design. Fashion in its broadest sense includes clothes but also spans in to hair styles, makeup, shoes and accessories like bags, scarves gloves or jewelry. In this description of fashion of photography I am referring to the broad description covering all aspects of fashion and style.

Fashion in magazines were in the form of adverts by the clothes manufactures and shops. Fashion gained importance with the wider population with the rise of celebrity with the film industry and the interest in what the glamorous and famous personalities were wearing on or off screen. Fashion photography echoes the culture attitudes and styles of that time. Fashion photography is about transforming the imagery of clothing, creating a vision, a desire of fashion by the way it is represented in conveys identity and social status, producing a fascinating view of economic and social history.

Irving Penn a photographer for Vogue magazine said that fashion photography is about ‘selling dreams, not clothes.’ This contrasts with view of the portrait and style photographer David Bailey who described fashion photography as simply ‘a portrait of someone wearing a dress’.

The earliest examples of fashion magazines are Harpar’s Bazaar started in America in 1862. Vogue started in the America as a weekly newspaper in 1892. Vogue evolved into a monthly magazine and various editions are now published around the world. New printing processes of the 1890s allowed photographs to be printed with text, this enabled the proliferation of fashion magazines. The UK version of Vogue magazine was first published in 1916. Elle magazine a French style and fashion magazine that started in 1945 and claims to be the world’s largest fashion magazine.


Look at recent front covers of the fashion magazines, they all have a similar style of Elle, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazine they are predominantly studio photographs, all have simple white or coloured backgrounds. They have one model or celebrity person looking straight out of the cover to make eye contact with the viewer. There is a slight variation in the poses front, back or side shot all with the head or body twisted so the eyes stare out of the cover.   The model is just the head, head and shoulders, head to chest shot or head to the thigh/knee shot.

Collection of Elle magazine covers


Collection of Vogue magazine covers


Collection of Harper’s Bazaar magazine covers


Teen Vogue Magazine is a fashion magazine aimed for under 21 audience. The covers are similar to the other covers, clear backgrounds, studio photographs, and a single model making eye contact with the viewer. The models are younger and colours brighter, typically the models are smiling. The models on the magazine covers aimed for the older audience the models rarely not smile.

Collection of Teen Vogue magazine covers


Fashion photography effectively shows clothes the design, shape of the item, the design of the fabric and how hair and makeup of the day is worn.

Fashion photography has been a subject that has predominantly been aimed to promote and maintain women’s interest in fashion. Fashion Photographers photograph garments and interpret the ideas of the season, range, designer or brand. Modern fashion photography nowadays is far more than photographing clothes, but has evolved into conveying contemporary complicated intriguing ideas, concepts and style.

A second milestone change in fashion photography was with the reduced cost of colour printing process for magazines. This enabled colour fashion photography to be included throughout a magazine, not just the occasional high cost colour feature. The buyer of the magazine could not only see the fashion styling of items, they could see the colours of materials and makeup.

Over time fashion photography in the style magazines evolved conveying new ideas, fashion photographers became well known for their style of photography, exotic locations were used to shoot photographs, the rise of the supermodel in the 1960s such as Twiggy and Bianca Jagger and Jean Shrimpton. The clothes created by some of the top fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood became the more outlandish. Fashion photography changed from a method to record and promote fashion, but a means of creating, making and driving fashion.


Fashion photography as an art form has changed and become more fantasy and staged to create a vibrant story telling imagery. The overall composition of backgrounds and staging and setting is as important as showing the clothes on the model with the intent of complementing the designers clothes.

The commercial fashion photography used on the covers of magazine has changed little over the years. Magazine publishers require a photographic image that sits centre, an uncluttered background and room around the central image to add information such as the title, issue details price of the magazine and details of feature articles within the magazine.


If you look at the covers of vogue from the 1930s to 1940s and compare them with todays modern covers the elements has not changed, the biggest change is the improvements in photography and printing techniques that have moved away from poster style to art work to photographs.


 1935vogue  1964vogue  2012vogue
Vogue December 1935


Vogue July 1964 Vogue April 2012















Male fashion magazine covers

Esquire magazine front covers


GQ magazine front covers


GQ and Esquire magazine covers follow the same style as the womens fashion magazines with the use of male models and male celebraties.  The men make the same eye contact looking straight out of the cover at the magazine viewer.




Edward Steichen Photographer In 1911 he produced a series of thirteen photographs printed in the magazine ‘Art et Décoration’. He later proclaimed he was responsible for ‘the first serious fashion photographs ever made.’ The models wore dresses by the designer Paul Poiret.



In the 1920s-1930s Vogue magazine experimented with new imagery that was a product of the surrealism art movement and featured photographs by Man Ray, unusual inventive images photographs.

Lillian Bassman developed her style of photography which was to create a mood, the clothes complimenting the style and elegance





Richard Avedon was famous for photographing models outside on location with city background.




David Bailey British fashion photographer, known for his studio based and documentary style.



Ronald Traeger was an American commercial photographer, who also took a range of experimental photographs and took many of the super model Twiggy.




Irving Penn the longest serving photographer for Vogue magazine.




Irving Penn, Mouth (for L’Oréal), New York, 1986, printed 1992, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation. Copyright © The Irving Penn Foundation.

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