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Photos courtesy of The Museum at FIT

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Get to Know the Women Who Changed Fashion Magazines

You know them individually, but collectively, they were a force to be reckoned with.

Three women changed the course of fashion magazines as we know it. Harper's Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow, fashion editor Diana Vreeland, and photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe shared a collaborative relationship that the Museum at FIT has brought to life with its latest exhibit, The Women of Harper's Bazaar, 1936-1958, using photographs, personal letters, behind-the-scenes archives, and a few fashion representations that shaped fashion editorial coverage over a quarter-century.

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The exhibit features decals of quotes from the women on the wall as you enter, and Dahl-Wolfe's sums up the charm of collaborating: "The magazine was in the greatest magazine editor ever, the magic of Carmel Snow."


Snow was considered a traitor when she switched fashion glossies, swapping Vogue for Harper's Bazaar to craft culturally and intellectually stimulating fashion content and get a one-up on the competition. Snow also championed Dahl-Wolfe's use of color photography using Kodak's Kodachrome film for Vreeland's on-location fashion spreads. Those types of spreads are now quite commonplace, but at the time, they were groundbreaking.

The exhibit — organized by the school's graduate students — highlights this point mostly in photographs displaying the utmost trust the women had in each other. Three of these stand out in particular: Vreeland standing in for a sick model in the Flight to the Valley of the Sun spread in 1942 without Dahl-Wolfe missing a beat; Snow huddling closely with her trusted her fashion editor; and Dahl-Wolfe, wearing Dior, shooting a model who was also wearing Dior (the photographer bought herself one designer item each season). These important moments in fashion editorial were triumphed only by Snow's end game: informing an eloquent audience of well-dressed women with well-educated minds about what's new and next.


Snow, Vreeland, and Dahl-Wolfe were able to speak to social issues through their magazine, whether that was with a photo essay of New York City housing projects in 1939, models repeatedly photographed wearing ballet flats while material to make high heels were rationed for World War II supplies, or pushing the envelope in 1946 by styling a model in an unlined bathing suit. The latter proved that fashion is more than clothing — it's an idea.

One Christian Dior coat on display is quite similar to what Snow dubbed "the new look," a nod to the editor's unwavering support for couture. "It's quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look," she told the 42-year-old designer at his show in Paris. The coat on display was made in New York, but nonetheless evokes the same sentiment.

The few instances where exhibit curators were able to make comparable matches to clothing worn in the spreads — a suit, a day dress, a bathing suit, an evening gown — serve as a snapshot into the closets of women behind the magazine, who gave readers the wardrobe essentials they never knew they needed. Perhaps they'll also serve as inspiration to visitors of this brief exhibit, too, just like it did to readers of the mid-20th century.

The Women of Harper's Bazaar, 1936-1958 is open through April 2nd in the museum's gallery; while you're there, you can also check out its exhibits on denim and fairy tale fashion.

Museum at FIT

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