Well, I may as well admit it, I love fashion magazine gift lists. There is just something so optimistic in the boundless consumerism and bright colours that collide on page after page of present ‘ideas.’ These spreads speak to both the magazine’s notion of its own taste and identity – and that of its readers – as well as its editors’ ability to search and edit what’s on offer into a comprehensive and easily scanned digest.
Here are some of my favourite aspects of these yearly lists, with examples from vintage December editions of American Harper’s Bazaar to liven up the holiday period:
- Scale & Layout – on these pages there is an Alice in Wonderland feeling to the tumbling images of individual gifts, which no longer adhere to real life scale. Suddenly perfume bottles are huge, sweaters tiny, nothing relates to normal expectations. In 2008, a bracelet, a coffee table book, a set of dominos and a ring were suddenly all the same size. While in 1933 things were even less rational – with gold sandals, earrings and a dachshund dog all somehow fitting in the same little frames. It is a baffling, yet exciting free for all to create a dynamic layout to entice your eye … and hopefully prompt purchases …
- Typologies – these range from mundane to bizarre in the ways various potential recipients are categorised by a made up title, and group of possible presents. I like 1922’s offerings including feathered fans and vanity box ‘to please the Debutante,’ a whole page of ‘gift suggestions for the fastidious woman of all ages,’ and potential gifts for that difficult group of women ‘of many minds and tastes.’
- Excess – nothing is too grand to be part of the gift list, this is after all the realm of fashion and fantasy. Indeed, amongst the yearly jewels, furs and golden gewgaws, in 1979 the magazine suggested that what American women really wanted for Christmas was an eligible bachelor. And it listed 10 possible candidates, ranging from Monaco’s Prince Albert to film producer Robert Evans.
- Contemporary Mores – the lists also reveal what is deemed most desirable, contemporary and fabulous in any given year. This insight means that we learn how alluring silver asparagus tongs were in 1904, the loveliness of a rubberised satin, jewel-buttoned raincoat from Bonwit Teller in 1941, and the high tech charm of a speaker phone with auto dial in 1986.
Happy Holidays, and may you receive everything on your own personal wish list…