To me, 1973 looks like heaven, but then perhaps it always did. I wanted to be a grown-up in 1973, and it’s only now, almost a lifetime later, that I have hit upon the solution to this problem by writing the life a person could have lived if they had been a grown-up in 1973.
It was my sister, the middle one of us three girls, who recently started me off on the vintage magazines trail by gifting me a copy of Woman’s Weekly from 1968. From that moment I knew I was going to have to track down and buy an autumn 1973 issue of either Vogue or Harpers Bazaar to ‘help me with the vintage part of my novel’. Specifically, I wanted a UK issue from September or October 1973 or a USA issue from December 1973 or February 1974. I struck out on Harpers Bazaar/Queen/Harpers & Queen, it went by so many names across the 1960s-1990s, but I did find a good selection of UK Vogue on an Etsy site (details at the end of the post) and ordered one issue from October 1973 and one for February 1974. I received the magazines well-packaged two days after I placed the order which I think is brilliant service.
So what do you get when you buy a vintage magazine?
Physically, you get the magazine in whatever condition it’s in, you can’t expect paper to age well over the course of almost fifty years. The website I used describes condition pretty well, noting wear to covers and spines and whether there are any tears on the copy; usually it notes the inside pages are in good condition. I’ve got to say both magazines I received were excellently preserved.
I thought today we could look specifically at the October 1973 edition because it’s my favourite. Actually, Vogue issued two copies in October 1973, I bought the October 15th copy on the basis that the cover promised “grass roots FASHION great new crop of cashmere, sheepskin, corduroy, suede, leather, tweed” – well, I wasn’t going to be able to resist that, was I? Also, the model on the cover is wearing pretty much all of these with her tweed hat, sheepskin collar and cabled jumper.
The first thing that I’ve got to say surprised me about these old Vogues is how many of the pages are monochrome, even many of the fashion and beauty spreads. There is still plenty of colour, especially in advertising features, but in a glossy magazine the limited use of colour is noticeable. The editorial pages also seem more densely packed with information than they are in modern glossies; this is a magazine that expects you to read it, not just flick through it and gaze at the lovely photos and admire the sparse design aesthetic.
The meat of the magazine, culture and current affairs, gives us reviews of “Coriolanus” at the Aldwych starring Nicol Williamson, two films – “Oklahoma Crude” (George C Scott/Jack Palance/Faye Dunaway) and, what is now a classic, “Don’t Look Now” (Donald Sutherland/Julie Christie), with plenty more little snippets, for example a couple of inches about “The Rocky Horror Show” and a smiliar little write-up on singer/songwriter Paul Jones. There’s a spotlight article on “Scandals of 1973” which compares current financial and business practice scandals with Watergate, from the previous year, and further back in time the Profumo Affair. There’s a portrait of impresario Michael White taking us back to the Rocky Horror Show.
But we’re really here for fashion and beauty – we were then and it’s no different now. There’s a marvellous article on natural beauty with recipes for “Cucumber and Elderflower Astringent”, “Rosewater and Apple Cream for a Spotty Skin”, and, astounding to the modern eye, “Sage Tea for a Smoker’s Throat”. I will note that the number of adverts for cigarettes might surprise us now, but smoking was still a little bit sexy in 1973, although it was already being decried as health-destroying and advertisements mentioned prominently that every pack carried a health warning. The emphasis is decidedly on ‘natural’ throughout the beauty features, although there are some nods to the more ‘scientific’ brands such as Clinique with their ‘computer’ technology to determine your skin type. This was how I was first skin-typed by them a few years later; now they ask similar questions but tap the answers onto a tablet, back then it was sliding a knob across a laminated cardboard overlay in a metal box. As a side-note, Clinique were one of the few brands of the time advocating washing your face with a soap (albeit specially formulated) and water rather than the more usual cleansing creams and milks wiped off with tissue – fast forward fifty years and we struggle to find a product that you don’t have to wash off, or at least wipe away with a damp cloth. Why can’t there be room in product lines for both methods, giving the customer the freedom to choose according to her own preferences?
There are 6 main fashion features:
Men in Vogue – 24 pages. Oh, my heart belongs to the darling men in their chunky knits and their sexy suits in Great Gatsby pastels, their coats, their enormously knotted ties and, in just one advertisement, their Engelbert Humperdinck frill-fronted shirts. The idea of more than 20 pages of men’s fashions might have put me off this issue, but I’m glad it didn’t because I need these clothes to dress the characters in my novel.
Are you huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ clothes? – 11 pages. Women’s country fashions in traditional horsey settings, wearable tweeds and cords and suedes. This seagues into:
All-weather dressing – 4 pages. Macs, cords and wools to keep you warm and dry, which in its turn seagues into:
Cashmere for the heart of your winter wardrobe – 6 pages. The section that makes a knitter’s heart pound in her chest, these knits are fine, sophisticated and covetable. I have already described one of these outfits in my novel.
Coney and Opossum come riding in – 4 pages. Yep, fur, it was big back then, but you really needed a Palamino horse to accessorise it.
Vogue’s Best Buys, Good Country Things – long hippie skirts brooding in fields, sharp tweeds at a chilly seaside location, more knits and stout wool walking skirts accessorised with brogues striding about the hills. Strictly no wafting in this issue.
The most visually stunning section is reserved for a 24-page advertising feature of interior designs focused on coal fires/heating systems. Warm, but groovy, baby. Oh, and speaking of homes, how reassuring to know that my Stag Minstrel bedroom furniture would happily grace the pages of the glossy mags if I could only transport it back in time!
Really, this just scratches the surface of the magazine and the magic is, as always, in the details. Tiny things that catch my eye and take me back or make me think. One thing I take away very strongly is that this magazine seems very different from the issues of Vogue that I was buying in the late 1970s and early 1980s. From my recollection, they were more colourful and less dense, but perhaps that’s not so. The only way I will know for sure is to buy one for comparison….
Well, I need to drag myself forward 47 years and deal with 2020 where there is ironing to be done and life to be dealt with. But don’t worry, I can pop back to 1973 any time I like just by opening this magazine.
I bought my magazines from VintageMagArchive on Etsy.