An Analysis of the “Fashionable Woman” in ELLE Magazine – ... semiotic
analysis has lead to the conclusions that women in 1992 ...... Vogue was first to.
UPPSALA UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION SCIENCE DIVISION OF MEDIA AND COMMUNICATION MASTER THESIS IN MEDIA AND COMMUNICATION STUDIES D-LEVEL, SPRING TERM 2007
FASHIONING THE FEMALE An Analysis of the “Fashionable Woman” in ELLE Magazine – Now and Then
Author: Heidi Marie Nömm Tutor: Ylva Ekström
FASHIONING THE FEMALE An Analysis of the “Fashionable Woman” in ELLE Magazine Now and Then
Number of pages:
57 (including diagrams and figures, excluding enclosures)
Heidi Marie Nömm
Media and Communication Studies D Level, Master Thesis
Spring term 2007
Uppsala University Division of Media and Communication Department of Information Science
The purpose of this master thesis is to investigate how fashion can function as a communication channel and how the modern Swedish woman is represented in ELLE magazine within two different fashion decades, in 1992 and 2007.
Swedish ELLE magazines No. 1-4 1992 and No. 1-4 2007.
A complementary combination of quantitative content analysis, semiotics and critical discourse analysis.
A number of differences, as well as similarities can be recognised between the fashions of 1992 and 2007. The latter one is characterised by women looking serious, sometimes even austere while 1992 shows often happy women. The fashion styles are much more casual, colourful and more accessorised by jewellery etc. in 1992, while the clothing in 2007 is often tight, body hugging and reveals more skin. Concerning ethnicity, 2007 only shows white women, often very feminine and wearing mostly dresses and rarely pants, whereas 1992 is characterised by ELLE’s effort to show a more multicultural and diversified picture of the female. The semiotic analysis has lead to the conclusions that women in 1992 were more natural and “real” whereas the female picture ELLE is presenting often has fictional or unnatural elements. The fashion styles often seem un-wearable in 2007, however also rather artistic. The woman of 2007 is living a more expensive and extravagant lifestyle than in 1992 where women were more often depicted “average”. Fashion, communication, representation, lifestyle, cultural studies, feminism, ELLE magazine, femininity.
CONTENTS CONTENTS................................................................................................................................ 3 1 INTRODUCTION................................................................................................................... 5 1.1 Fashion as a field of research............................................................................................ 5 1.2 The purpose of study......................................................................................................... 7 1.3 Questions of research........................................................................................................ 7 1.4 My material and sample .................................................................................................. 8 1.5 Previous research on fashion as communication.............................................................. 8 2 FASHION IN THE 20th CENTURY.................................................................................... 11 2.1 Short overview of the history of fashion ....................................................................... 11 2.2 Fashion photography....................................................................................................... 13 2.3 ELLE magazine..............................................................................................................13 3 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK......................................................................................... 14 3.1 Traditional feminist media studies.................................................................................. 14 3.1.1 Historical review of feminist media studies............................................................. 14 3.2 Constructing and representing femininity....................................................................... 15 3.3 Fashion as a communication system............................................................................... 17 3.5 Fashion as discourse........................................................................................................18 3.4 Fashion and lifestyle....................................................................................................... 20 4 ANALYSING THE CONTENTS - Methodology................................................................. 21 4.1 Content analysis.............................................................................................................. 21 4.1.1 Finding your images................................................................................................22 4.1.2 Devising your coding categories ............................................................................. 23 4.1.3 Coding the images.................................................................................................... 23 4.2 The semiotics of fashion................................................................................................. 24 4.2.1 The concept of signs................................................................................................ 24 4.2.2 Denotation and connotation..................................................................................... 24 4.2.3 Fashion as myth and ideology.................................................................................. 26 4.2.4 The aspects of signs................................................................................................. 26 5 COUNTING THE CONTENTS – Quantitative analysis...................................................... 28 5.1 Fashion and looks............................................................................................................28 5.1.1 Hair...........................................................................................................................28 5.1.2 Eyes.......................................................................................................................... 30 5.1.3 Complexion.............................................................................................................. 30 5.1.4 Clothing.................................................................................................................... 31 5.1.5 Fashion colours........................................................................................................ 31 5.1.6 Shoe fashion............................................................................................................. 32 5.1.7 Jewellery.................................................................................................................. 32 5.1.8 Make up....................................................................................................................33 5.1.9 Accessories...............................................................................................................33 5.2 Body language and physical characteristics....................................................................34 5.2.1 Body Proportions..................................................................................................... 34 5.2.2 Visible body parts.................................................................................................... 34 5.2.3 Nudity.......................................................................................................................35 5.2.4 Facial expression...................................................................................................... 35 5.2.5 Eye contact and line of sight.................................................................................... 35 5.2.6 Grade of activity.......................................................................................................36 5.2.7 Race / ethnicity.........................................................................................................37 5.3 Surroundings and environment....................................................................................... 37 3
5.3.1 Setting 1: Natural environment or photo studio?..................................................... 37 5.3.2 Setting 2: Rural or urban environment?................................................................... 38 5.4 Summary......................................................................................................................... 38 6 READING THE IMAGES – Qualitative analysis................................................................. 40 6.1 The fashionable female in 2007...................................................................................... 40 6.1.1 The distant snow queen............................................................................................ 40 6.1.2 The “immaternal” woman........................................................................................ 42 6.1.3 The objectified female ............................................................................................ 44 6.1.4 The metropolitan lifestyle woman........................................................................... 46 6.1.5 Summary.................................................................................................................. 47 6.2 The fashionable woman in 1992..................................................................................... 48 6.2.2 The “colour-mad” female.........................................................................................49 6.2.3 The unisex style....................................................................................................... 50 6.2.4 The multicultural woman......................................................................................... 51 7 DISCUSSION & FINAL THOUGHTS................................................................................. 53 8 LIST OF REFERENCES....................................................................................................... 55 9 LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS................................................................................................ 57 APPENDIXES.......................................................................................................................... 58 APPENDIXES Appendix 1 - Coding Schedule Appendix 2 - Fashion images of 2007 Appendix 3 - Fashion images of 1992
“All the things that adorn woman, all the things that go to enhance her beauty, are part of herself (…) making (…) the woman and her dress, an invisible whole.” (Baudelaire, 1972)
It is commonly known that we nowadays live in a society where mass media is rapidly gaining more influence on people’s everyday lives. It is somewhat alarming how our social lives are built up and entirely dependant on all kinds of media. We rely on media because it makes our lives much easier as they are important tools for gaining information, they help us to orientate, organise and communicate. If we look at print media in particular, like newspapers or magazines, two important functions or gratifications for the reader are amongst others information, orientation and identification. The latter one is fairly abstract when it comes to determining how people orientate by the use of information media, how they are influenced by its contents, how their lives, personalities, values and ideals are formed by media consumption; in short, how people are socialised through media. It is often stated, that media in most instances, forms our private and professional lives, often unconsciously. Likewise, it is assumed that relations beyond the media, e.g. social, political, economical or cultural circumstances, influence the content of media to the same degree which explains why the media content is formed as it is. The media work in accordance with the meanings society is forming, a network of definitions that make the world understandable.1 Thus, as media is said to have a huge impact on society and culture, it is important to always relate them to each other when studying certain phenomena within one of those areas.
Fashion as a field of research
The term “fashion” usually applies to a prevailing “mode of expression” and is most often used as a synonym for the current style in clothing. Inherent in the term is the idea that the mode will change more quickly than the culture as a whole. The terms “fashionable” and “unfashionable” are employed to describe whether someone or something fits in with the current popular mode of expression.2 Women’s fashion magazines are the form of media that will stand in focus and which will be studied and investigated in this thesis. Those magazines are filled with advice on what to wear, when to wear it, how to wear it and guidelines about what to look like as a female. Moreover, a certain kind of lifestyle is communicated through these fashion features and images. They form a world that the readership seeks to be part of. They form a look that shall be copied by the fashionable reader in order to be “in style”. They literally construct the feminine, or as Christopher Breward calls it, an “image of femininity” that is “a construction, a product of its society, of culture, economics, politics and technology”3. The importance of the discourse of fashion has always been high within all kinds of cultures as it is symbolic for what we are or what our ideals are. The fashion discourse regards the communication and interaction of fashion styles and looks by several kinds of media as 1
Anja Hirdman, Tilltalande bilder. Genus, sexualitet och publiksyn i Veckorevyn och Fib aktuellt (Atlas, Stockholm 2002), p. 22. 2 Woman’s Wear Daily: http://www.wwd.com/dictionary/fashion#fashion, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fashion, 070510. 3 Christopher Breward, The Culture of Fashion (Manchester University Press, Manchester 1995), p. 198 f.
movies, television or print media within society. They help to construct fashion and develop taste and maintain our sense of aesthetic. People who are not interested in fashion and do not actively participate in the fashion discourse are often seen as “unfashionable” or not “trendy”. But in some respect we are all influenced by clothing standards and cultural norms due to our surroundings and habits. Fashion has the capability to express those cultural norms by being worn. In former times it was merely a question of status and class how people were dressed. Nowadays it is more a question of style, taste and habits, depending on in which social circles we are acting. But it is also a mirror of our social circumstances as structures of power and gender issues. The discourse of fashion has increased as fashion is being published by all kinds of media: television, magazines, fashion blogs and so on. Moreover, we may not forget the power of advertising, fashion marketing and PR which not only have the economic power but are even influencing the editorial content of women’s magazines. The phenomenon of fashion has been object of interesting research in different scientific areas as it affects and reflects people’s lives in many different ways. I am going to give examples later on when presenting previous research in the field of fashion as a form of communication and how it can work as a discourse. According to Cheryl Buckley and Hilary Fawcett the field of fashion studies overlaps with many other fields of science: The analysis of fashion, dress and clothing tends to crop up in a number of academic contexts: social and economics historians have used it as a barometer of social change and patterns of consumption; cultural theorists have interpreted it as a site of complex discursive practices; art historians have analysed dress as a part of the ‘visual’ culture of a specific period; and design historians have viewed it as intrinsic to the processes of cultural production and consumption.4
Hence, fashion can be seen to be embedded in a wider system. Both culture and the media have an impact on fashion at the same time. Fashion magazines for example influence the readership (thus a part of the society and culture) through the way fashion and women are represented in the magazines. Hence, there is an apparent interconnection between these three fields which therefore should always be studied from a holistic perspective. Fashion can on the one hand express individualism, personality and social affiliation. On the other hand it is also a collective matter. It shows the spirit of the time and the social movements, attitudes and values that exist within a society.5 Different fashion styles reflect different lifestyles which at the same time communicate certain ideals and beliefs. Oscar de la Renta, one of the world’s most famous high fashion designers, once stated: “In the old days fashion designers – seamstresses really - made and sold only dresses; today we sell a lifestyle to the whole world.”6 Hence, you not only buy clothes but a piece of the society in which they are meant to be worn. Fashion is a social and cultural expression which on the one hand communicates culture and on the other hand has an impact on how people are seen within society and what status they have. Lifestyle is however not something that you can buy and put on and off like clothes. According to Bourdieu’s “habitus” notion, people’s social affiliations have a huge impact on which lifestyle they are choosing or forced to live, and how people use clothes as a means of expression. The so called “habitus” is created by living conditions, class and the symbolic capital people have gotten through life experience.7 In this context I would like to quote 4
Cheryl Buckley, Hilary Fawcett: Fashioning the Feminine. Representation and Women’s Fashion from the Fin de Siècle to the Present, (I.B. Tauris Publishers, London/New York, 2002), p. 3. 5 Maja Jacobson, Kläder som språk och handling (Carlsson Bokförlag, Stockholm 1994), p. 216. 6 Oscar de la Renta, quoted by Jennifer Craik in: The Face of Fashion. Cultural Studies in Fashion (Routledge, London and New York, 1994), p. 58. 7 Jacobson, p. 217, referring to Pierre Bourdieu, Kultursociologiska texter (Salamander, Stockholm 1986), p. 291 f.
Marjorie Ferguson who described in her work on women’s magazines how they contribute to the formation of the female identity: Alongside other social institutions such as the family, the school, the church and other media, [women’s magazines] contribute to the wider cultural processes which define the position of women in a given society at a given point in time. In this exchange with the wider social structure, with processes of social exchange and social continuity, these journals help to shape both a woman’s view of herself and society’s view of her. For these periodicals are about more than woman and womanly things, they are about femininity itself - as a state, a condition, a craft and as an art form which comprise a set of practises and beliefs.8
Thus, women’s magazines are not only reflecting the female role in society but they also contribute to the formation of the female ideal as they supply a source of definitions of that role.9 They work as a fashion and lifestyle guide by promulgating values and attitudes and working as “agents of socialisation”10, as Marjorie Ferguson calls it. In the same way as these magazines form the reader, they also produce an image by representing and fashioning the models in certain ways. According to Malcolm Barnard, these magazines use fashion and clothing to create and communicate images and certain ideals about women.11 Inspired by these thoughts, I am now going to continue with describing the purpose of my study, followed by the questions of research.
The purpose of study
In this thesis I am going to focus on the media content (both written and visual) and ways of representing and communicating fashion and the “fashionable woman” in the fashion magazine ELLE. The aim of my study is to investigate how the “fashionable woman” is “constructed” in the Swedish ELLE magazine today in 2007 and, for comparison, fifteen years ago in 1992. By this I am going to try to identify the particular linguistic, semiotic and inter-discursive features of media texts which according to Norman Fairclough are “a part of processes of social change”12. My focus will thereby lie on the fashion features, or more precisely the fashion photographs and in parts with their corresponding texts. In my analysis I will put emphasis on the communicative, social and cultural character of fashion and the model’s body language. My aim is not only to study how women and fashion are presented in the magazine but furthermore how these women express their social status, ideals and reflect cultural values like taste and style through their outward appearance as clothes, make-up, posture, facial expressions etc. I am also trying to relate the women’s representation to cultural and social contexts in order to get a holistic view on the image contents.
Questions of research
My overarching question of research which originally brought me to the specific area of examining fashion magazines is: • How can fashion work as communication? After I had made myself familiar with the subject and read in the relevant literature I came up against three more detailed questions and my actual object of investigation: • How does the Swedish ELLE magazine represent the “fashionable woman” in 2007 compared to 1992? 8
Marjorie Ferguson, Forever Feminine: Women’s Magazines and the Cult of Femininity (Heinemann, London 1983), p. 1 f. 9 Ibid, p. 184. 10 Ibid, p. 2. 11 Barnard, Fashion as Communication (Routledge, London 1996), p. 70. 12 Norman Fairclough, “Critical discourse analysis”, http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/staff/norman/norman.htm, 070408.
What differences or similarities can be observed? What do “fashion codes” tell us about the image and ideal of women within the particular social context of the respective year or decade?
My material and sample
After due consideration, I have chosen to study ELLE magazine as a result of the simple fact that it is the world’s largest fashion magazine. Moreover, the ELLE readership has similar demographics as those of fashion conscious consumers. One can therefore assume that people who read ELLE magazine are interested in fashion and are mostly influenced by its content in the same way as ELLE is trying to deliver its readership the newest fashion and trends. As its content does not only include high fashion but also shows fashion in lower price categories it appeals to the “mainstream” fashionable woman, thus the majority of fashion conscious consumers. The reason why I have chosen the Swedish ELLE is the simple fact that I live and study in Sweden and the magazine, especially those from year 1992, were easy to have access to. I could have chosen another Swedish fashion magazine like e.g. “Femina” but decided to rather investigate an international one because it still serves as a paradigm for many national fashion magazines. Besides, the Swedish ELLE still has its own editorial content which is specifically targeting the Swedish woman as we will see during the analysis. To get a more historical view on fashion and the changes of fashion I have chosen to study ELLE magazine with a time interval of fifteen years. This seems like a decent time difference during which an evident change of fashion and taste can occur. Moreover I have chosen to delimit my study to the first four issues of each year, which is January to April. To analyse the same months has the advantage of having the same fashion season – which in my case is winter and spring fashion.
Previous research on fashion as communication
Clothing is a very interesting subject to research or reflect upon as it seems to participate in and influence our everyday life in many ways. Most research has been done on the psychology of motivation, thus why people are buying fashion, and investigating their personal motives which encourage the purchase of an item of clothing. Questions on what can influence their behaviour, advertising or peer groups has primarily been evoked by marketing firms etc.13 But when it comes to fashion as a means of communication or form of language I have to mention a Swedish dissertation, Maja Jacobson’s Kläder som språk & handling (transl.: “Clothes as language and action”). Jacobson describes and investigates how young women in the 1980’s used clothing to construct their social and personal identities and form their lifestyles. She has investigated how these women present themselves and communicate by means of clothing and their symbolic meanings. Not only is Jacobson focusing on the women and their clothing behaviours but is also considering fashion’s collective sense and meaning in general. Inspired by Jacobson’s work I intend to change this approach a bit and investigate the representation of fashion in a women’s magazine. Looking at research that has been done in the field of media and cultural studies on magazines, it is obvious that this area has occupied a less central and prestigious place than academic research on other media. Angela McRobbie points out that this can be explained by the fact that these magazines remain a narrow sector of the global communications industry. The research that has been done has primarily focused on gender issues, and less on other areas of study.14 However, these magazines hold a strong position regarding their influence on
Roland Barthes, The Language of Fashion (Berg Publications, Oxford 2006), p. 25.
women’s lives for they serve as an important source of identification and orientation. Therefore it is my interest to go into this type of popular media and investigate the inner structures of a women’s magazine by help of a varied theoretical framework.
Within my study I am going to delimit the extent of material to four ELLE issues per year as this seems like an adequate amount of material. Of course I have to admit that the representative is not as high as if I had examined a whole year respectively, but this would have gone far beyond the scope of a master thesis. Therefore, I have chosen to investigate the ELLE numbers 1 to 4 which are the issues of January, February, March and April of both 1992 and 2007, in total eight magazines. Moreover, I have decided to delimit my study on the actual fashion and style features which are produced by the Swedish ELLE’s own editorial staff. I was interested in how fashion is presented within these features, to what degree they form a female ideal, which is why I do not include any advertisements or other reportages that show for instance fashion news as the latest catwalk fashions etc but not the country’s own fashion style. My focus will lie on the representation of the female body by analysing the models characteristics and fashion they are wearing. Regarding research methods, I shall also consider the restrictions a quantitative or qualitative analysis of a media text implicates. John B. Thompson views media research in general as a “very partial way of examining cultural phenomena […] The texts are generally analysed in and for themselves, without reference to the aims and resources of those who produce them […] or the ways in which they are used and understood by those who receive them”15. This we have to bear in mind when conducting a research like this and drawing conclusions from our results. When accounting the results of my analysis, these will be my personal conclusions drawn with the influence of my own cultural and social background and environment. My results will not reflect a general reception or meaning of these images for every individual decodes images in his/her own way. I will rather try to find out what these images might communicate and connote, within the culture I am living in, by using my own sign systems. Because of the subjective character of a semiotic analysis I am going to strengthen my study by a foregoing quantitative content analysis. Furthermore I have to delimit the study in the analysis of the magazine’s linguistic content. As the text parts are primarily held in Swedish I am only taking them into consideration when they have an underlying connection to the picture, and are needed in order to decode16 the content of meaning in the intended way.
Chapter 1 presents an introduction to the issue, topic, purpose of study, question of research, material and sample, a summary of previous research that has been done on the subject of fashion as communication, the delimitations of my study and at last the disposition. Chapter 2 contains relevant background information which gives a deeper insight to the field of fashion history, fashion photography and information on ELLE magazine. Chapter 3 comprises the theoretical framework of my study.
Angela McRobbie, In the Culture Society – Art, Fashion and Popular Music (Routledge, London 2003), p. 47. 15 John B. Thompson, The Media and Modernity (Stanford University Press, Stanford 1995), p. 37 f. 16 Note: The term “decode“ means to read and interpret a linguistic or visual sign. Signs are artefacts or acts that refer to something else than themselves and can be seen as “signifying constructs”. Cp. John Fiske, Introduction to Communication Studies (Routledge, 2nd edition, London 1990), p. 1.
Chapter 4 explains the methodology as it shows up the appliance of several empirical methods, explains the method of content analysis, and presents semiotics as a qualitative research method. Chapter 5 presents the process of the empirical data collection and gives information about what had to be considered when determining the coding categories. Chapter 6 contains the semiotic analysis of a number of selected images and is systematically divided into the levels of denotation, connotation and the particular cultural context and concluded with a short summary of the main results. Chapter 7 In this chapter the main results are discussed and the main conclusions of my study are drawn, giving a general outlook on fashion today compared to 1992, the main differences and what they could imply.
FASHION IN THE 20th CENTURY
Fashion and clothes have always been a significant phenomenon within society. Fashion reflects and expresses our culture, our sense of aesthetics, our norms, values, ideals and a certain contemporary style. By clothes we do not only distinguish between groups and roles but also mark and amplify points in time and situations.17 Fashion has the unique capacity to show modernity. As Christopher Breward describes in his book The Culture of Fashion, the twentieth century has often been characterised as the age of “mass”. “Mass consumption”, “mass production” and “mass media” have been said to be the defining characteristics of Western society since 1900. This “mass society” that came up with advances in technology and materials has unavoidably left its tracks on the culture of clothing. A wider population got access to fashionable clothing, whilst the mediums through which fashion change was communicated allowed for an equally wide dissemination of fashion information. Thus, a more homogenous public audience came up with the emergence and rise of fashion magazines and the Hollywood film industry.18 Fashion magazines do in spite of all critique and their often accused “triviality” represent something very important, which is in fact the female mass culture.19 But they also do communicate and influence what Naomi Wolf has called the “Beauty Myth” which tells women what to look like if they want to fit in the current ideal of beauty and style. Naomi Wolf broaches the issue of women’s magazines in general but when discussing fashion and the body these magazines are in her opinion the primary guide for orientation and source of identification.20 In former times, fashion was rather a question of status where only the upper class could afford the latest fashion trends. For the most part there was one certain fashion style that was up to date over a long period of time. We see an example of this in the 1920’s, also known as “the roaring 20’s”, the decade in which fashion entered the modern era and in which women first liberated themselves from constricting fashions and began to wear comfortable clothes, such as short skirts or pants.21 Over the decades fashion became increasingly fugacious, seasonally changing, and more influential on all social classes within the Western culture and fashion has rather become a question of style and lifestyle. In contrast to that, fashion in the beginning of the twentieth century was more durable: the style of the 20’s for instance continued to characterize fashion until late in 1930.22 In the following I am going to give a short historical overview on fashion during the 20th century in the Western culture23, its social circumstances and the role of fashion magazines.
Short overview of the history of fashion
In the beginning of the 20th century fashion magazines began to include photographs (instead of painted illustrations) and became increasingly influential. Especially in the larger cities throughout the world, fashion magazines were greatly sought-after and had a profound effect 17
Jacobson, p. 202. Breward, p. 182/83. 19 Naomi Wolf, Skönhetsmyten (Natur och kultur, NOK Pocket, Stockholm, 1996), p. 69. 20 Ibid, p. 72. 21 Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1920s_in_fashion, 070414. 22 Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1920s_in_fashion, 070414. 23 Western culture (or Western civilization) is a term generally used to refer to the cultures of the people of European origin and their descendants. It comprises the broad heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs. The term "Western" is used in contrast to Asian, African, Native American or Arab nations (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_culture , 070510). 18
on the public taste.24 Moreover, class was a central issue to the identity of fashion markets. “During this time, high fashion was the principal source of stylistic innovation, and influenced the design of clothing from department store replicas to home dress making patterns”.25 After World War II mass-manufactured fashions became increasingly popular. A new youth style emerged in the 1950’s which changed the focus of fashion forever. Lighter textiles such as synthetics became popular as a result of the increasing popularity of central heating. Fashion became affordable to all social classes which turned the fashion industry up-sidedown. As the amount of fashion buyers increased, production cycles were longer than those of couture workshops, which meant that designers planning their fashion lines for the semiannual collections had to try to guess more than a year in advance what their customers would want.26 The fashion style of the 50’s had its emphasis on feminine attributes as slender hips and shoulders, wide skirts and high heels, while the masculine ideal was exactly the other way round27, thus a broad and strong upper part of the body. At the end of the 60’s, luxury garments disappeared and a new wave came up, the so called “elegance for everybody”. This was a result of the women’s movement where middle class women left their role as consuming housewives and entered the job market. Women’s magazines realized the threat that came up with this revolution where the “liberated” women developed an own fashion ideal and ignored the magazines’ authority. The sales of women’s magazines decreased immensely between 1965 and 1981. That’s when the women’s magazines had to change the image of women and adapt to the “new” role model and the social changes that would degrade their power on women. A new fashion era was about to move in. The time of extremely expensive fashion was over and the magazines had to find something new to “dictate” and to make their readers dependent on. Vogue was first to introduce the “nude look” which on the one hand showed women’s liberation from restrictions of fashion but on the other hand a direful, new relation to their bodies.28 In contrast to the 50’s and 60’s the 1970’s were influenced by a new body ideal, the young, slim, flat body and the androgynous traits became popular. Unisex fashion came in fashion and women’s clothes became more masculine while men’s fashion started to adapt to a more feminine style.29 The fashion industry in the late 20th century began to operate on an international level. Hereby the “popular Western styles” dictated the tone and were adopted all over the world. After two decades of looking to the future, fashion turned to the past for integration.30 The “retro style” or “retro chic”31 became a benchmark for future fashion trends. On the question how women’s magazines worked in the 1980’s, the British fashion historian and theorist Elisabeth Wilson concluded at that time that (…) women’s magazines have moved from the didactic to the hallucinatory. Originally their purpose was informational, but what we see today in both popular journalism and advertising is the mirage of a way of being, and what we engage in is no longer only the relatively simple process of direct imitation, but the less conscious one of identification.32
This intensity of identification with the depicted models and their fashion styles increased certainly after establishing fashion photography in women’s magazines. 24
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1930-1945_in_fashion#1930.27s , 070414. Buckley, Fawcett, p. 18. 26 Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1930-1945_in_fashion#1930.27s , 070414. 27 Jacobson, p. 202. 28 Wolf, p. 66. 29 Jacobson, p. 202. 30 Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1930-1945_in_fashion#1930.27s , 070414. 31 Note: "’Retro Fashion’ or ‘Retro Chic’ may consist of outdated styles, such as tie-dyed shirts from the 1960’s, or poodle skirts from the 1950’s”, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retro, 070414. 32 Elisabeth Wilson, Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity (Virago Press, London 1985), p. 157. 25
The popularity of fashion photography increased during World War I, but illustration and photography appeared side by side in fashion magazines, up to the 1950’s 33; the 1930’s were a period of significant change and photography became increasingly popular because of the invention of colour photography. The first colour photograph on a fashion magazine appeared on Vogue in 1932.34 Craik asserts in her book The Face of Fashion that […] fashion photography has become the main source of knowledge about clothes and bodies in a practical way. [...] Photography revolutionised the representation of fashion, not just in terms of the technical ability to depict clothes ‘realistically’, but by inventing ways to display the relationships between clothes, wearers and contexts.35
In short, the photographs in fashion magazines tell a lot about what picture of women is currently dominating within society and how the woman is depicted to express social values, norms and her status through clothes and appearance.
Another important part of fashion is fashion journalism. There are a number of glossy magazines that offer advice on how to look like and how to achieve a certain look. These magazines construct garments and collections as meaningful by presenting them in a certain way and within a context.36 ELLE is a worldwide magazine that focuses on women's fashion, style, beauty, health and entertainment. It was originally founded in 1945 in France but has now a circulation in 39 countries and reaches an audience of approximately 21 million every month. Monthly 5.8 million copies are sold worldwide which makes ELLE the world’s largest fashion magazine.37 The American ELLE was the first to adapt the hitherto French magazine and came out in 1983; Great Britain, Spain, Italy and Hong Kong followed next.38 In Sweden ELLE magazine was published the first time in March 1988. It instantly became a success and has nowadays a circulation of 85.100 magazines and a readership of approximately 280.000 every month which makes ELLE to one of Sweden’s most popular fashion magazines (together with Femina39).40
Craik, p. 96 f (cp. p. 96, figure 5.3, image 9). Ibid, p. 101. 35 Ibid, p. 93. 36 Barnard, p. 92 ff. 37 Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ELLE ; ELLE Sweden: http://www.elle.se/?id=2098, 070409. 38 ELLE Sweden: http://www.elle.se/?id=2097, 070409. 39 Allers publications: http://www.annons.allersforlag.se/servlet/GetDoc?meta_id=1046, 070410. 40 ELLE Sweden: http://www.elle.se/?id=2097, 070409. 34
Traditional feminist media studies
Feminist media studies are closely linked to cultural studies, especially when it comes to symbolization and representation.41 The representation of women has always been an important “battleground” for contemporary feminism.42 In the early 1970s, research of mass media from a critical feminist perspective began to examine the female stereotypes and ideologies that the media had been communicating to the public. However, the feminist media scholar Liesbet van Zoonen points out that feminist research has often been unconsidered within the field of media studies.43 Feminist media studies have a postmodernist understanding of science as socially constructed and grounded in the social experiences of its practitioners. Doing scientific feminist research always includes an individual, socially and culturally influenced perspective to understand the different meanings of media content.44 Van Zoonen is hereby referring to bell hooks45 when stating that “the engagement with culture enables feminists to do intellectual work that connects with habits of being, forms of artistic expression, and aesthetics that inform the daily life of writers and scholars as well as a mass population”. 46 However, she is also pointing out that culture is a fairly wide notion, especially in social sciences. Van Zoonen defines culture as “ways of life” or, as she quotes Corner, “the conditions and the forms in which meaning and value are structured and articulated within a society”.47 Feminist media studies have their focus on how gender is communicated within the media. For van Zoonen “gender is a, if not the, crucial component of culture”, in particular when investigating the production of mass mediated meanings.48 In the following I am giving a short introduction to the history of feminist media studies and its counterpart, queer theory.
3.1.1 Historical review of feminist media studies For many years feminists have denounced women’s magazines as commercial sites of intensified femininity and drawing the female into a consumer culture on the promise that they could buy themselves out of bodily dissatisfactions and low self-esteem.49 The classic issue that emerges from the critical point of view when using a feminist perspective is the conjunction between the pleasure women derive from reading women’s magazines and the political correctness concerning the hegemonic construction of gender identities.50 It is indeed difficult to find a justifying reason for investigating women’s magazines which undeniably gives the female readership joy and gratification in order to criticise it from a feminist standpoint. Van Zoonen quotes Davies (et al.) when portraying traditional feminist criticism on media content and women’s magazines in particular. They mediate images that tell women 41
Liesbet van Zoonen, Feminist Media Studies (London, Sage, 1994), p. 5. Ibid., p. 12. 43 Ibid., p. 12 ff. 44 Ibid., p. 15. 45 bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics (Boston, MA, South End Press, 1990). Note: bell hooks has claimed to spell her name in small letters. 46 Van Zoonen, p. 5. 47 John Corner, Meaning, Genre and Context: The Problematics of ‘Public Knowledge’ in the New Audience Studies, in: James Curran and Michael Gurevitch (eds): Mass Media and Society (Edward Arnold, London 1991), p. 131. 48 Van Zoonen, p. 6. 49 McRobbie, p. 46. 50 Van Zoonen, p. 7. 42
“how to be a perfect mother, lover, wife, homemaker, glamorous accessory, secretary – whatever suits the needs of the system”. 51 According to feminists during the 1970’s, the “media-created woman” was a wife, mother and housekeeper, a sex object and a person only trying to be beautiful for men.52 It is questionable though to which degree these statements are correct nowadays and whether the female image, ideology and status have changed within media as well as in society since then. Newer feminist media research has changed their view on media as being seen as the origin of the distorted picture of the female. The acceptance of the fact that we are all “born into societies that have labelled a particular difference between human beings as woman vs man, and a related difference as feminine vs masculine” 53 exculpates the media from the position of being the “black sheep”. Alternative approaches have emerged ever since, and nowadays the media is rather viewed as a modern mythical story-teller and social reality is regarded as both an objective and subjective construction.54 The queer theory, introduced by Judith Butler’s book Gender Trouble in 199055, can be seen as the counterpart of feministic theory as it rejects gender as ”the defining factor” of identity. 56 The main idea behind feminism was that men and women should be treated equally. But by creating a binary “men vs women” opposition the gap between sex (the biologically given division) and gender (which is the cultural component and is socialised into a person on this basis) was reinforced instead.57 Queer theory in contrast is viewing gender as a “performance” and referring to the humanist view of gender as an attribute and installed by culture. Gender should therefore be seen as”a fluid variable which can shift and change in different contexts and at different times”.58 There are identity patterns that we have become familiar with by repetition, and therefore seem natural. Especially the media is promoting certain kinds of male and female performances, but when looking back on history one can see that the “recommended expressions of gender” are very flexible and arbitrary.59 This constructionist approach of how gender or femininity is constructed and can be formed through representation I am now going to describe more in depth.
Constructing and representing femininity
Terence Hawkes stated already in 1977 in his work Structuralism & Semiotics that “we no longer believe in an external, objective, unchanging ‘reality’, nor in methods which seek merely to transcribe it”.60 Structuralists emphasize techniques to be used to determine the underlying abstract system of structures in representation. This approach began in 1916 with the posthumous publication of the work of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (18571913). Saussure distinguished between the concepts of “langue” (French for “language”) and “parole” (“word”). By langue he meant the knowledge speakers of a language share about what is grammatical in language while parole refers to the actual spoken utterances of the language.61 Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, semiotician Roland Barthes, and other midcentury thinkers initiated the so called “French structuralism” by applying linguistically based 51
K. Davies et al, Out of Focus: Writing on Women and the Media (1987, p. 4), quoted by van Zoonen, p. 66. Judith Hole and Ellen Levine, Rebirth of Feminism (Quadrangle, New York 1971), p. 249. 53 Van Zoonen, p. 33. 54 Ibid, p. 37 f. 55 Judith Butler, Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge, London 1990). 56 David Gauntlett, Media, Gender and Identity (Routledge, London 2002), p. 136. 57 Ibid., p. 137. 58 Ibid., p. 139. 59 Ibid., p. 140. 60 Terence Hawkes, Structuralism & Semiotics ( Routledge, Florence / USA 1997), p. 103, e-book: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/uppsala/Doc?id=5003135&ppg=104, 070422. 61 Marcel Danesi, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Media, and Communication (University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2000), p. 218. 52
formal methods to literature and cultural behaviours. Their aim was to investigate the “structure” of a culture as a whole by decoding its interactive systems of signs. These systems included literary but also other cultural texts, such as advertisements and fashion.62 Also media theorist McQuail linked structuralism to the more specific method of semiotics by stating the following: (…) structuralism refers to the way meaning is constructed in texts, (...) consisting of signs, narrative or myths. (…) In general, it has been assumed that such structures are located in and governed by particular cultures – much wider systems of meaning, reference and signification. Semiology is a more specific version of the general structuralist approach.63
Constructing meanings through signs is a fairly complex process because the notion of sign is quite extensive as it can regard written and spoken language, objects, images, motion pictures and so on. Barnard is following this more general account and considers even fabrics and textiles as well as garments and parts of garments to be signs. 64 Many fashion signs are conventional and common known as they are culturally generated. Colours can be used to signal sex differences for example. Barnard gives hereby the simple example of a baby wearing pink is a sign for its female sex, while boys would rather wear blue. 65 The association of pink with femininity and blue with masculinity was made in 19th century France. In the 18th century however, a pink silk suit was regarded as appropriate attire for a gentleman. 66 Gender should therefore not be seen as a fixed property of individuals, but rather as a part of an ongoing process where subjects are constituted, often in paradoxical ways as van Zoonen insinuates.67 These underlying cultural structures build our perception of our environments and things that we look at and interpret. It can be described as a process of constructing the world according to the inherent sign systems. But vice versa do the objects we are looking at also construct our personality, gender roles and so on. Representation is an important part of the process by which meaning is produced and exchanged between members of a culture. It connects language and meaning to culture.68 How things are represented depends therefore a lot on what culture they are produced and consumed in. As Stuart Hall states “things don’t mean”, we rather have to construct the meaning by using representational systems like concepts and signs69 which we have learned and internalised. As meaning is constructed through so called signifying (“meaningproducing”) practices70, it can only be “read” or understood by people with the same codes of meaning (e.g. languages). Fashion magazines use a certain way of representing women and the latest fashions. They contribute significantly to the current women’s ideal and fashion style as they construct femininity. They choose what type of woman and fashion to show and construct therewith an ideal of how women are supposed to look like nowadays. In this context the notion “fashioning” I am using throughout my thesis has an immanent parallel to the process of constructing this ideal of fashion, femininity and style. By fashioning the female a certain identity is constructed which influences “her” aesthetic sense. Magazines communicate certain role models which women can identify themselves with. Moreover, the fashions represented in these magazines do not only reflect an already existing sex and gender identity, but that they are a “part of the process by which attitudes to and images of both men 62
Ibid., p. 218/19. Denis McQuail, McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory (Sage Publications, 4th ed., London 2000), p. 311. 64 Barnard, p. 79. 65 Ibid., p. 79, 113. 66 Ibid., p. 113, quoting V. Steele, “Appearance and Identity” in: C. B. Kidwell and V. Steele: Men and Women: Dressing the Part (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington 1989), p. 6. 67 Van Zoonen, p. 33. 68 Stuart Hall, Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (Sage, The Open University, London 1997), p. 15. 69 Ibid., p. 25. 70 Ibid., p. 28. 63
and women are created and reproduced”71. Two major models of the constructionist approach are the semiotic and discursive approaches, which I will give a short introduction of now and a more detailed later on when using those methods in my analysis.
Fashion as a communication system
Malcolm Barnard discusses in his book Fashion as Communication how clothes can make cultural statements and that fashion, clothing and dress can be seen as cultural and communicative phenomena. It enables individuals to construct an identity by means of communication.72 According to Barnard, a fashion garment or outfit can even stand for a whole way of life.73 In his view culture can be understood as a signifying system and clothing as nonverbal communication. Barnard refers to the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco who has stated that people speak through their clothes74, and that fashion can be seen as language of its own. This standpoint however is criticised by Barnard because clothing is changing its meaning very quickly and can mean one thing this year and something entirely different next year. Therefore, it is not unproblematic to see fashion as a language.75 Barnard prefers to view fashion as communication, thus as a “social interaction through messages”, as John Fiske defines the act of communication in general.76 According to Barnard, fashion and clothing have a commonsense appeal. Clothes send messages about oneself to others with the clothes one wears, according to what one will be doing that day, or what mood one is in.77 Also Alison Lurie views clothing as a sort of language by arguing that “we put on clothing for some of the same reasons as we speak” 78. Clothes make statements which is why you have to go deeper when investigating fashion with its latent meanings. The semiotic model concentrates primarily on the negotiation of meanings rather than the receiving (or sending) of messages.79 The meanings of a piece of clothing are therefore the result of a constantly shifting negotiation.80 That’s why we have to take into consideration when using semiotics as an approach that every individual decodes messages according to cultural and personal experiences and codes. Thus, when doing a semiotic analysis one has to be aware of one’s own subjectivity when reading and interpreting media texts or fashion codes. When it comes to the understanding of fashion as a means of communication, Hall is explaining Saussure’s traditional model of signification and Barthes’ enhanced view on fashion which claims that clothes function as signifiers. The fashion code in Western cultures correlates particular types or combination of clothing with certain concepts, like the concept of “elegance”, “formality”, “casualness”, or “romance”. The “correct” reading of these concepts is called the “signifieds”. The clothes are converted into signs which in turn can be read as a language. Only those who share the same “fashion code” will interpret the signs in roughly the same way.81 The shape and style of a fashion garment works as a signifier while its recognised label for example would be the signified. In most instances it is very difficult to signify a clothing label merely by the garment’s representation. Therefore it is common 71
Elizabeth Rouse, Understanding Fashion (BSP Professional Books, Oxford 1989), p. 108. Barnard, p. 26 ff. 73 Ibid., p. 80. 74 Ibid., p. 26. 75 Ibid., p. 27. 76 Ibid., p. 27, quoting John Fiske, Introduction to Communication Studies (2nd Edition, Routledge, London 1990), p. 2. 77 Ibid., p. 28. 78 Alison Lurie, The Language of Clothes (Bloomsbury, London 1992), p.27. 79 Barnard, p. 30. 80 Ibid., p. 31. 81 Hall, p. 37/38. 72
within fashion journalism to quote the brand name next to the photography of the respective garment. Roland Barthes has described in his well-elaborated work The Fashion System82 the correlations between the different fashion garments and their meaning within different contexts and ways of wearing. Barthes argues that the same clothing can have different meanings, depending on how it is worn, in what situation or combination. He claims that a clothing garment, thus the signifier, must be cut down into smaller units because of its syntactical character.83 Barthes describes this process by citing a simple example: A cardigan can be sporty or dressy, depending on whether the collar is open or closed. This utterance includes a double signification which Barthes has illustrated by this “signifying matrix”84: Cardigan + collar + open Cardigan + collar + closed
= sporty = dressy
The constituent parts are object, variant and support. The cardigan is the object, which receives the signification. “open” or “closed” is the variant, which constitutes the signification, thus how the garment is perceived. “Collar” functions as the support, which supports or “bears” the signification. The variants can never be found on the same support, as a collar cannot be open and closed at the same time. The signifier can be changed which in turn entails a change of the signified, thus how we read and interpret the style of the garment, either as sporty or classy. 85 It is the open collar that has affinity with casualness, yet the object and support participate closely in the meaning. However, it is not any “opening” which produces the casual, but the combination of a cardigan and its open collar.86 These interpretations and ways we perceive clothes and fashion are partly dictated by fashion magazines and by our cultural and social habits and aesthetical norms. We know for example that it is appropriate within the Western culture to wear black on funerals or white as a bride, whereas in other cultures it is the other way round. We have internalised these norms by adapting them in our fashion code system. These fashion codes are formed and eventually changed by new trends, transmitted by amongst others - fashion magazines87.
Fashion as discourse
Considering fashion as a discourse is a view that can be connected to Fairclough’s tridimensional model of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) which I am now going to present in short. This model has served me primarily as a source of inspiration and given me a better understanding of fashion as a social and cultural phenomenon and how it works within a wider context. However, I am not going to apply Fairclough’s method of CDA in my analysis but only use his model in order to give a general comprehension of how fashion magazines are interacting within different discursive dimensions. According to the linguist Norman Fairclough, it is partly through everyday discursive practices that social and cultural reproduction and change occur within society.88 The biggest difference between Fairclough’s theory of CDA and post-structural discourse theory is therefore that the first one is both constitutive and constituting. Discourses constitute the social world at the same time as the social practices constitute the discourses. Discourses which are held within society form and 82
Roland Barthes, The Fashion System (University of California Press, London 1990). Barthes (1990), p. 60. 84 Ibid., p. 61. 85 Ibid., p. 61 ff. 86 Ibid., p. 213 f. 87 Note: Not only do fashion magazines communicate new trends. Also clothing distributors (e.g. department stores), our social environment, and other media forms, like e.g. movies, television etc., all contribute to our fashion sense. In this thesis, however, I am exclusively concentrating on the media form of fashion magazines. 88 Marianne Jørgensen Winther, Louise Phillips, Diskursanalys som teori och metod (Studentlitteratur, Lund 2000), p. 67. 83
reflect structures, relations and processes which include both discursive and non-discursive moments.89 Fairclough’s CDA is an approach (…) where the aim is to map three separate forms of analysis onto one another: analysis of (…) texts, analysis of discourse practice (processes of text production, distribution and consumption) and analysis of discursive events as instances of sociocultural practice.90
According to this theory, every act of communication has therefore three dimensions: a text, a discursive practice and a social practice. Fairclough describes a media text as a small unit within a broader discursive context, which includes the process of production, distribution and consumption. These processes take place within wider social discourses held within the public sphere. Thus, to put it with Fairclough’s words, the conception of a discourse can be seen as being “(...) simultaneously a piece of text, an instance of discursive practice and an instance of social practice”91. In my introductory chapter I mentioned Jennifer Craik’s assumption that there is an underlying relationship between clothes, wearers and contexts which reminded me highly of Fairclough’s tri-dimensional view of media texts. To transfer Fairclough’s model to Craik’s view of clothing and fashion, clothes can be seen as a part of a wider system or discourse. As I would interpret Craik’s view by adapting Fairclough’s model, the fashion producers are the designers, the distributor (or communicator) would be in our case the fashion magazine ELLE, and the (fashion) consumers are the readership. The third dimension of “social practice” reflects the socio-cultural context in which the (fashion) text is produced, communicated and consumed. Below you can see the transferred tri-dimensional model relating to Craik’s view on fashion as a discourse. SOCIAL PRACTICE DISCURSIVE PRACTICE Clothing (fashion) - production (e.g. designers) - distribution (e.g. magazines) and - consumption (e.g. the female reader)
Figure 1 – Tri-Dimensional Conception of the “Fashion discourse”92
Stuart Hall is, as many other semioticians, referring to the French sociologist Michel Foucault (1926-1984) when talking about the meaning of discourse. Foucault studied discourse as a system of representation. Usually the concept of discourse is associated with language and texts and the production of knowledge through it. Foucault, however, gave it a different meaning by stating that “since all social practices entail meaning, and meanings shape and influence what we do – our conduct – all practices have a discursive aspect” 93. Thus, the fashion and women that are represented in fashion magazines represent a certain form of discourse which in turn allows us to see fashion from the perspective of a social discourse. 89
Ibid., p. 68, 71. Norman Fairclough, Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language (Longman, London 1995), p. 2. 91 Norman Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change (Cambridge Polity Press, 1992), p. 4. 90
Based on Fairclough’s tri-dimensional model, see Jørgensen Winther / Phillips: Diskursanalys som teori och Hall, p. 44.
Moreover, a discourse analysis has the aim to find the formal traits within a text that constructs discourses and so called “genres”. The author of the text is hereby building on existing discourses and genres that exist in the social environment and which the reader is using to make sense of the textual content. These discursive practices are constructed in a society that is both forming and being influenced of the other discourses that are held within the public sphere. This relation is called an interdiscoursivity. Winther Jørgensen and Phillips are pointing out that especially journalists are using interdiscourse when they relate their own articles to former discourses and media texts that regarded the same topic.94 Concerning the fashion features I am going to analyse, the editors have used the genre of fashion photography and journalism when producing the fashion features. The reader of this kind of media text does not expect a storyline but a certain theme and style when looking at the various fashion features in order to understand the plot line.
Fashion and lifestyle
Fashion can be seen as a means of expressing taste, style and personality but also as a means of expressing lifestyle. Nowadays, lifestyle and self-identity have become increasingly changeable and arbitrary as every individual can choose from various ways of living. As Gauntlett argues in his book Media, Gender and Identity, earlier societies had social orders which were “based firmly in tradition and providing individuals with (more or less) clearly defined roles”95. With this reasoning he is referring to Anthony Giddens’ definition of lifestyle choices and the idea that in modernity, everyone has to make choices about the shape and character of their lives and identities.96 In our post-traditional society, however, we have to work out our roles for ourselves.97 In this context, fashion plays a crucial role when it comes to constructing an identity and living a certain lifestyle. The things we buy to “express” ourselves with have a strong effect and impact on who or what we are, or “the project of the self”, as Gauntlett calls it. Especially advertising which helps us to orientate and promote things that help us to accent our individuality which in turn develops consumerism and projects certain lifestyles. The term “lifestyle” applies to wider choices, behaviours, attitudes and beliefs and is not only about fancy jobs and conspicuous consumption as Gauntlett points out in his book.98 It is rather the “visible expression of a certain narrative of self-identity”. Furthermore, it is a “genre” which we can choose depending on how we want our life to be. People can choose between for example metropolitan or rural lifestyles, a lifestyle focused on career, or centred on party, sport, romance, adventure and so on. These lifestyle choices link us to groups of likeminded people who are “like us”. However, different situations demand different lifestyles, depending on the audience. Gauntlett refers hereby to Giddens’ notion of “lifestyle sectors”, different aspects of lifestyle that we choose depending on in which situation or surrounding we are in, at work, at home, or acting in other relationships. It is no question that the media does play a crucial role in propagating modern lifestyles. The range of lifestyles offered by the media may be limited but are certainly broader than those we would experience in everyday life.99 Hence, these mediated lifestyle patterns serve as a source of information, orientation, identification and imitation.
Winther Jørgensen, Phillips, p. 75 ff. Gauntlett, p. 96. 96 Cp. Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Polity, Cambridge 1991). 97 Gauntlett, 96 f. 98 Ibid., p. 102. 99 Gauntlett, p. 103 f. 95
ANALYSING THE CONTENTS - Methodology
The two basic approaches to the study of media output are according to van Zoonen content analysis and semiotics.100 As she has stated in her book, published in 1994, it was still unlikely to find both content and semiotic analyses used in the same project. 101 However, nowadays the interdisciplinarity of both the field of feminism and cultural studies have led to a convergence of the two methodologies which seems rather logical in order to get comprehensive and exhaustive results. This is why I have decided to use both approaches in my study. To begin my study with and get an idea of ELLE’s fashion content and frequency of the different themes and styles, I am first going to conduct a more extensive quantitative content analysis of the ELLE issue numbers 1-4 (January-April) of the years 1992 and 2007. By this I intend to examine which women and fashion types are represented in the particular year. This will also help me to figure out the outstanding characteristics of each year which helps me to decide which images of the magazines are interesting to study more in-depth in my qualitative analysis later on. For this I am going to combine Gillian Rose’s102, David Deacon’s103 and Arthur A. Berger’s104 guidelines of counting and analysing media contents. The content analysis shall thereby serve as a form of pre-study to my later, more detailed analysis of a number of selected fashion features from both years where I will use the qualitative method of semiotics. For this part I will have my starting point in Saussure’s traditional study of signs, commonly known as semiotics or semiology, Roland Barthes’ several orders of signification and view of fashion as a system and ideology, or myth as he calls it. Moreover I will use Stuart Hall’s theory of representation, include Peirce’s aspects of signs and draw upon van Zoonen’s and Hansson’s (et al.) 105 guidelines of how to conduct a semiotic picture analysis.
Bernard Berelson defined content analysis as a “research technique for the objective, systematic and quantitative description of the manifest content of communication”106. Berelson’s classic definition from 1952 has been a code of practice within quantitative media studies ever since because it contains all relevant aspects but requires some explanation. Putting the focus on the manifest media content, form an important limitation of content analysis since the researcher is prevented from reading between the lines of media output, which means that the analyst should exclusively concentrate on the explicit words, sentences, texts and images, not the latent meanings and associative conclusions. The natural assets of content analysis are that it fulfils important scientific requirements such as objectivity, reliability and replicability.107 Berger’s idea of counting content in order to get an insight in how people receive media messages may be instructive and shed first light on the object of investigation. According to Berger “content analysis is a research method that involves measuring something […] in a random sampling of some form of communication […]” and is most useful when they include a historic or comparative dimension. He thinks that by taking a 100
Van Zoonen, p. 67. Ibid., p. 68. 102 Gillian Rose, Visual Methodologies (Sage Publications, London 2001). 103 David Deacon et al., Researching Communications. A Practical Guide to Methods in Media and Cultural Analysis (Arnold, London 1999). 104 Arthur Asa Berger, Media Analysis Techniques (2nd Edition , SAGE London 1998). 105 Hasse Hansson et.al, Seendets Språk (Studentlitteratur, Lund 2006). 106 Bernard Berelson, Content Analysis in Communication Research (Hafner Press, New York 1952), p. 147. 107 Van Zoonen, p. 69. 101
historical point of view one can discover trends and whether there have been significant changes in attitudes about women for example and how the culture’s or society’s values and beliefs differ from former times.108 Also van Zoonen describes content analysis within feminist media studies as a valuable method and instrumental tool “in providing a general impression of the representation of women”109. One can for instance examine what type of women is over- or underrepresented, what clothing is fashionable within a specific year etc. In our case this would be the analysis and comparison of the fashion features and photographs of the ELLE winter and spring issues January to April in both 1992 and 2007. Another advantage of content analysis that Rose points out in her book Visual Methodologies is that one can handle a big number of images with some degree of consistency.110 She refers to Lutz and Collins who have defended their usage of content analysis in their study of nearly 600 photographs in the magazine National Geographic as follows: Although at first blush it might appear counterproductive to reduce the rich material in any photograph to a small number of codes, quantification does not preclude or substitute for qualitative analysis of the pictures. It does not allow, however, discovery of patterns that are too subtle to be visible on casual inspection and protection against an unconscious search through the magazine for only those which confirm one’s initial sense of what the photos say or do.111
Rose goes on by summarising that content analysis can include qualitative interpretation of the empirical results. Moreover it prevents a certain sort of “bias” which can be “produced by a refusal to be reflexive about your research procedures. […] using the rules of a content analysis forces a researcher to be methodologically explicit” and not rely entirely on “unconscious” strategies. Thus, “content analysis and qualitative methods are not mutually exclusive”112, but in my opinion complementary. To achieve the cultural significance of the images, I am after the content analysis going to apply the qualitative method of semiotics. Rose suggests approaching a content analysis in four steps: 1) Finding your images, 2) devising your coding categories, 3) coding the images, 4) analysing the results.113 In addition to Berger’s and Deacon’s guidelines, I am going to follow these four steps when collecting the quantitative content of the fashion pages of the selected ELLE magazines of 1992 and 2007.
4.1.1 Finding your images As the content analysis must be appropriate to the question of research 114, I have to delimitate my study to the manifest fashion content of the selected ELLE magazines, which is the section called “Mode” (transl: “Fashion”) and “Stil” (transl.: “Style”). As mentioned above, I have decided only to investigate ELLE magazine’s own editorial fashion content. This would be all by ELLE produced and edited fashion features115 that present a model who is wearing the fashion garments, and the corresponding text parts, which also tell the reader the garments’ brands, place of purchase and price. These pages are highly influential as they encourage or animate the female reader to go and purchase the represented fashion items which is the main reason why I have determined to analyse these sections.
Berger, p. 116, 118 f. Van Zoonen, p. 73. 110 Rose, p. 55 f. 111 C.A. Lutz, J.L. Collins, Reading National Geographic (University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 89, quoted by Rose, p. 55. 112 Ibid., p. 55. 113 Cp. Rose, p. 56 ff. 114 Ibid., p. 56. 115 Note: No catwalk shots of various designers or collages of fashion garments are considered in this study. 109
4.1.2 Devising your coding categories To use quantitative content analysis effectively, Deacon et al. have pointed out that you have to be clear from the beginning what you are interested in investigating.116 In other words, you need to determine categories based on what you want to discover. Deacon is basically analysing written texts which will not suit my object of study. Therefore I am transforming his approach in parts and take some help from Berger’s and Rose’s examples of analysing quantitative contents117. Berger has suggested a number of categories one could focus on when studying images: the physical, social and emotional characteristics of women118, which I have changed and completed in some degree, in order to make my own study more exhaustive. To leave my content analysis value-free and being as objective as possible, I have left out a number of valuating codes which Berger had suggested in his coding pattern. For instance I have omitted the category “emotional characteristics” under physical characteristics because they only include characteristics that require a subjective, thus qualitative estimation. In total I am going to work with 22 codes which shall give me first information and conclusions on the representative physical, fashion and environmental characteristics in both years. Physical codes 1. Hair colour 2. Eye colour 3. Complexion 4. Body proportions 5. Body parts 6. Nudity 7. Face expression 8. Eye contact 9. Line of sight 10. Activity 11. Race
Hair 12. Hair structure 13. Styling 14. Fringe
Fashion Codes 15. Fashion colours 16. Clothes 17. Shoes 18. Jewellery 19. Make up 20. Accessories
Environmental codes 21. Setting 1 22. Setting 2
4.1.3 Coding the images To avoid overlapping, the coding categories have to be completely unambiguous, which in turn makes the coding process replicable, thus repeatable. Rose suggests applying an “index card” for each image on which you note the codes. Furthermore she suggests testing the coding schedule on another person to see if he/she gets the same results on one and the same picture.119 I have done this with two friends who are also studying media and are therefore are 116
Deacon et al., p. 117. Note: Rose is thereby referring to Lutz and Collins’ research method in: Lutz, C.A. and Collins, J.L.: Reading National Geographic (University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1993). 118 Cp. Berger, p. 117-18. 119 Rose, p. 62. 117
familiar with conducting a quantitative content analysis. I have attached the coding schedule in appendix 1. When determining the coding categories you have to consider them to be both exhaustive and exclusive. This I have done by testing and revising the coding schedule on a few images until all categories were countable and non-subjective or valuing. First after coding all characteristics I am interested in counting I can start with the actual counting process.
The semiotics of fashion
Semiology or semiotics has become fairly popular within feminist media studies because of its ability to “’dig’ below the manifest level of analysis”120. In order to find the underlying, connotative and cultural meanings of the selected fashion images I am including the method of semiology in my study. By this method I will conduct a subjective analysis there I will use my own codes of signification and interpretation. Thereby I am not going to use all images I have included in my content analysis because this would go far beyond the scope of this thesis. I have therefore decided to limit my semiotic study to a selected number of images from each year, which is one image unit per month. The images I have chosen to investigate can be seen as being characteristic or typical for the respective time period (in the beginning of the 90’s and now).
4.2.1 The concept of signs Semiotics is the study of signs and how meaning is constructed and understood. All semiological understanding of the sign depend in parts on the work of Saussure and in particular his Course on General Linguistics.121 For Saussure the sign is the basic unit of language and consists of two levels: the signifier and the signified. In this context he speaks of the “twofold entity” when dealing with the inner structure of a sign.122 The American philosopher and Saussure’s co-founder of semiology Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914) defined a sign as “something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity” 123. As Rose states in her book, “signs make meanings in complex ways, and much of the technical vocabulary of semiology describes the precise ways in which signs make sense”124. Semioticians classify signs or sign systems in relation to the way they are communicated. It was not until the 1960’s that the work of Roland Barthes introduced this field to wider audiences by applying it to various forms of popular culture.125 The process of carrying meaning depends on the use of codes that people use to form words (in form of language), to express themselves by the body movements or gestures they make to show attitude or emotion, or in my case by the clothes they are wearing. These statements people make through their clothes have underlying, connotative meanings.
4.2.2 Denotation and connotation All models within picture semiotics are inspired from linguistics insofar as they are divided into two levels, the expression and its content. Roland Barthes’ model of picture semiotics is based on the assumption that images are always dependent on a linguistic text in order to decode it correctly. Stuart Hall and Denis McQuail are also referring to Barthes’ idea when stating that the picture and the corresponding text can be divided into two levels, the denotative (the obvious, straightforward meaning of an image) and the connotative (the 120
Ibid., p. 69. Ibid., p. 74. 122 Umberto Eco, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (Macmillan Press, London 1984), p. 14. 123 C.S. Pierce, Collected Writings (8 Vols.). Ed. Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss & Arthur W Burks. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1931-58, Vol. 2, para. 228. 124 Rose, p. 74. 125 Van Zoonen, p. 74. 121
underlying, latent and more abstract meaning of images).126 Barthes calls the process of denotation as the first order of signification “because it describes the relationship within a sign between the signifier (physical aspect) and the signified (mental concept)”127. A signifier could for example be the combination of the letters forming the word “rain”, whereas a signified refers to the concept of rain as a particular type of weather.128 Or in the case of fashion it could be a particular piece of material which is cut and sewn in a specific way to our concept of a pair of “jeans”129. With our cultural codes we can signify this fashion item as “jeans”, whereas in other cultures it would only be a pair of trousers or maybe even unknown (e.g. in tribes there pants are not a common piece of clothing). Only the combination of the signifier and the signified forms a sign, in this case the sign of “jeans”. After one has signified the sign it the “correct” way you can progress to a second, wider level, which links these signs to broader, cultural themes, concepts or ideologies. A pair of jeans can thereby be a sign for “casualness”, whereas an evening gown with glitter and gold would be related to luxury and elegance. Barthes’ called his book The language of fashion after these associations and ideas we get by “reading” the codes of fashion. This process is also called “connotation” which relates to the second order of signification. It is referring to the associated meanings that may be conjured up by the signified object. The pink or blue coloured baby clothes I mentioned above may therefore connote the sex of the baby. Thus, the process of signification works at two levels of meaning which McQuail calls “the surface level of literal meaning and the second level of associated or connoted meaning”.130 The figure beneath illustrates how the two orders of signification are linked together.
Figure 2 – Denotation and connotation:
Grey: The 1st order of signification (denotation); white: The 2 order of signification (connotation)131 nd
Contemporary semioticians call the creation and interpretation of verbal and written texts as “encoding” and “decoding” respectively. This, however, makes these processes seem very programmatic. Chandler however argues that: The use of these terms is of course intended to emphasize the importance of the semiotic codes involved, and thus to highlight social factors. (…) there is no such thing as an uncoded message, so that - for those who argue that all experience is coded - even ‘encoding’ might be more accurately described as ‘recoding’.132
Also the process of decoding involves not simply basic recognition and comprehension of what a text ‘says’ but also the interpretation and evaluation of its meanings with reference to relevant codes.133 Images can evoke different associations, or connotations, for different people depending on gender, age, class, nationality, race and so on. They would all generate 126
Göran Sonesson, Bildbetydelser (Studentlitteratur, Lund 1992), p. 71. McQuail, p. 313. 128 Van Zoonen, p. 75. 129 Hall, p. 38. 130 McQuail, p. 313. 131 Hall, p. 68, copied from Roland Barthes’ “Myth Today” in: Mythologies, translated by Annette Lavers, Hill and Wang, New York, 1984. E-source: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~marton/myth.html , 070418. 127
Chandler, Semiotics for Beginners, http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem08c.html, 070421. Ibid.
different connotational meanings for one and the same picture. Nevertheless, people from the same culture and roughly the same age and class will come up with almost identical connotations134, which is due to the similarity of their sign systems.
4.2.3 Fashion as myth and ideology In The Fashion System135 the French semiotician and critic Roland Barthes (1915-1980) showed how the signs of women’s fashion and clothing can be analysed and translated into meanings. In this work he explains how in the fashion world any word could be loaded with idealistic emphasis. Hence, if a popular fashion magazine says that “Blue is in fashion this year”, this idea is immediately naturalised and accepted as truth, even though the actual sign could just as easily be exchanged with “red”, “white” or any other colour.136 The signifier “blue” is immediately signified as “trendy” and fashionable the next time one enters a fashion store. Ideology (or “myth”, as Saussure named it) “works by naturalizing and universalizing meanings and values which were in fact socially constructed” and is the “smooth reproduction of existing social […] relations.”137 In this meaning, “myth […] does not refer to mythology in the usual sense of traditional stories, but the ways of thinking about people, products, places, or ideas which are structured to send particular messages to the reader or viewer of the text”138. In the chapter “Myth today” of his book Mythologies139, Barthes is updating Saussure’s system of signs by adding the third level of myth. The function of myth is “to naturalize the cultural - in other words, to make dominant cultural and historical values, attitudes and beliefs seem entirely ‘natural’, ‘normal’, self-evident, timeless, obvious ‘common-sense’ - and thus objective and ‘true’ reflections of ‘the way things are’.” 140 For Barthes myths are the dominant ideologies of our time and culture. He argues that the orders of signification all combined produce ideology - which has been named (though not by Barthes) the third order of signification.141 However, there is a danger of stressing the “individual subjectivity” of connotation. “Intersubjective” responses are shared to some degree by members of a culture. Connotations are not purely “personal” meanings - they are determined by the codes to which the interpreter has access. Certain connotations would therefore be widely recognized within a culture which shares the same ideology or myth. Most adults in Western cultures would know for example that a car can connote virility or freedom.142 Or, to give an example of fashion, most people in our culture would agree that sneakers are not common to wear with an evening gown. The second level of signification is therefore influenced by the third level of signification, a certain cultural ideology which possibly would be interpreted in a different way by other cultures or at another time in history.
4.2.4 The aspects of signs When talking about images and picture analysis, Charles Saunders Peirce made another, more detailed distinction between three aspects of signs: the iconic, the indexical and the symbolic sign. A sign within an image can stand for different meanings. It can be signified as a symbol 134
Barnard, p. 83. Roland Barthes, The Fashion System (University of California Press, London 1990). 136 Barthes (2006), p. 41 ff. 137 McRobbie, p. 48. 138 Bignell, p. 16. 139 Roland Barthes, Mythologies (Random House (UK) Ltd. 1972), p. 114 f; online publication of “Myth Today” from Mythologies by Roland Barthes, translated by Annette Lavers, Hill and Wang, New York, 1984: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~marton/myth.html, 070418. 140 D. Chandler: “Semiotics for Beginners”, University of Wales, http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem06.html , 070421. 141 Ibid. 142 Ibid. 135
that has a conventionalised but clearly arbitrary relation between the signifier and signified. Rose gives in this context the example of babies often used to represent notions of “future”.143 These symbols have to be learned.144 Indexical signs are said to have an inherent relationship or “causal connections”145 between the signifier and the signified. However, the “inherence” is often culturally specific. A baby pacifier for example is often used as an index to denote a room in public places with baby-changing facilities. 146 Iconic signs have the quality of having an apparent resemblance between the signifier and the signified. To use our example with the baby again, a baby in a photograph is an iconic sign for a baby. Thus, the process of decoding an icon is seeing it.147 Another important distinction in the context of analysing semiotic sign systems is the one between paradigmatic and syntagmatic signs. The latter ones gain their meaning from signs that surround them in an image or a sequence of several images, as for instance a fashion feature of a magazine with a certain theme or story line. Paradigmatic signs have the nature of gaining their meaning from a contrast to other signs we already have in our sign system, and from their relation to its absent opposites. For example would we understand an image of a baby by deciding that it is not an adult or adolescent. 148 Syntagmatic relations refer intratextually to other signifiers which are co-present within the text, whilst paradigmatic relations refer intertextually to signifiers which are absent from the text but learned and internalised.149
Rose, p. 78. Berger, p. 5. 145 Ibid., p. 5. 146 Rose, p. 78. 147 Ibid., p. 78, Berger, p. 5. 148 Rose, p. 78, van Zoonen, p. 75 f. 149 Chandler: “Semiotics for Beginners”, http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem03.html , 2006-0512. 144
COUNTING THE CONTENTS – Quantitative analysis
The ELLE issues 1-4 of 1992 include in total 140 images. The first four issues of 2007 represent a total of 127 images. Hence, both years consist of approximately the same amount of pictures which makes it possible to compare them. The simplest way to count codes is to work with a coding schedule containing a matrix with all the categories and codes one is interested in counting. The frequency counts can either be absolute or relative. 150 In my case I have converted the absolute amounts to values in percent in order to see the relative distribution of the annual characteristics more clearly. Due to the magazines’ different amounts of fashion images, I think this shows more accurately the actual content and the frequency distribution of the several fashion codes and physical characteristics. In this way it is easier to compare the ELLE content of both years. To compare images across time can show trends and changes and maybe also a certain style of representation that is typical for ELLE magazine. To view images from different time periods is interesting, especially in my case when trying to figure out the women’s ideal and its changeability. Thus, analysing the results of a content analysis is a technique of approaching a later understanding of “how the codes in an image connect to the wider context within that image […] To do that requires not just quantitative skills but also qualitative ones”. 151 However, it would be too extensive to account for every single category of each month. Therefore, I have chosen to summarise and present only the annualised results.152 I have divided the several categories into three major groups: 1) Fashion and looks, 2) body language and physical characteristics and 3) surroundings and environment. By this I hope to be able to give a more comprehensible overview of the main findings of my study.
Fashion and looks
5.1.1 Hair To start with the fashion styles and looks which are typical for the particular year, one can see a striking similarity in the dominant hair colour which is brown and dark brown in both years 1992 and 2007. Blond is also represented but still only in minority. Some issues don’t have blond hair models at all (cp. 03/92 and 04/07). Black and red hair were only found in one fashion feature in the issue numbers 04/92 and 03/92, respectively. Red hair, however, was found in a smaller frequency than black hair. Straight hair is fairly uncommon in 1992, where natural volume or curly hair was in style. 2007 is quite balanced when it comes to hair structure and doesn’t show a real trend. Both curly and straight hair is in fashion, the only difference to 1992 is that 2007 shows more extremes like very straight hair or very curly. Besides the hair structure it is striking that long hair was and is most fashionable both in 1992 and 2007. Short hair however was more fashionable in 1992 than nowadays. Fifteen years ago you could find short hair in every issue between January and April and in a fairly high frequency. In contrast to that, in 2007 the issue number 01/07 was the only magazine that contained a woman with short hair. What comes to hair styling, most images, both in 1992 and 2007, show women with loose hair153. Both years have quite similar results, only in 2007 the hair or hair styling is often not visible because of a hat or a hood that is hiding the hair. Having a fringe has become more 150
Rose, p. 63. Ibid., p. 65. 152 Note: I have not attached the results of every single month and issue as this would have been a too big amount of material. I am in possession of all diagrams which include the results in detail and can be viewed in case of interest. 153 “Loose hair” I have considered to be hair which is not pinned up or in braids. 151
fashionable since 1992 where a woman with a fringe could only be found in two issues (March and April) and in a very small frequency. In 2007 however, the February issue contained almost 30 percent women with fringes and the March issue about 25 percent. Diagram 1 – Hair colour 1992 (N=140)
2007 (N=127) 70
dark blond/light brown
dark blond/light brown
not v isible
not v isible
0 Hair colour
Diagram 2 – Hair structure 1992 (N=140) 45
2007(N=127) light curls/natural v olume
light curls/natural v olume
15 10 5 0
not v isible
15 10 5 0
Diagram 3 - Styling 1992 (N=140)
not v isible hair structure
pinned up/pony tail
not v isible
pinned up/pony tail
20 10 0
not v isible styling
Diagram 4 – Fringe 1992 (N=140) 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0
2007 (N=127) 100 80 yes no not v isible
not v isible
20 0 fringe
5.1.2 Eyes The dominant eye colour in the issues 01/92 and 02/92 is blue and grey, followed by brown which lies around 25 percent. The first two months of 2007 contain surprisingly no brown eyed women at all (at least the eyes could not be defined as brown). The ELLE issues in 1992 contain on average more brown eyed women than 2007, in March and April 1992 they even hold the majority over blue/grey eyed women. Diagram 5 – Eye colour 1992 (N=140) 45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0
brown blue/grey green indefinable
eyes not v isible
45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0
brown blue/grey green indefinable
eyes not v isible
5.1.3 Complexion When coding the complexion or skin type, it was not easy to categorise between women with - as we would call it - “European” origin and other ethnical roots. Besides their darker skin colour or looks we still do not know these women’s actual origin or cultural heritage. Therefore, I have called this category “darker skin type”. The majority of the depicted women show a “natural tan”154 in both years. The issues of January and April 2007, however, show most women with a pale skin colour, which means that their skin has no tan at all. More tanned women155 and women with a darker skin type are represented in 1992. January and February 2007 don’t show any tanned women at all which can be related to the season. Furthermore, no women with a darker skin type, thus from other than European origin, are shown in 2007.
Note: “Natural tan” I have considered to be white women with an untanned, yet not pale complexion. Note: With “tanned” I mean an apparent suntan.
Diagram 6 - Complexion 1992 (N=140)
2007 (N=127) 60
no tan/pale skin
no tan/pale skin natural tan
darker skin type
darker skin type
5.1.4 Clothing The most striking clothing difference is certainly that long pants were much more fashionable in 1992 than nowadays. Today skirts and dresses are dominating the fashion features, even though it doesn’t mean that pants are out of style. More short pants, hot pants and leggings are presented in 2007, highly frequent in the April issue, due to the upcoming spring fashion. 1992 has a fairly balanced representation of pants and dresses throughout the four months and the fashion lines aren’t that imbued by shorts. Diagram 7 - Clothes 1992 (N=140)
not v isible
not v isible
other (body, ov erall etc)
other (body, ov erall etc)
5.1.5 Fashion colours White, black, dark blue and grey are by far the most frequent colours in both years which are indicators that these are classic colours which never go out of style and are always combined with the current “fashion colours”. Between 40 and 60 percent of the fashion photographs in both years contain white. The fashion of 1992 is much more colourful than in 2007, where the colours are more discreet and neutral. The flashy colour pink only occurs in the 1992 fashions where it seems to have been “the” fashion colour. The year 2007 has no apparent fashion colour but rather a variation of pastel and natural, both light and dark colours, which are sometimes mixed up by some strong coloured garments, in red, purple or orange. It is rather unusual in 2007 that many strong colours are mixed within one and the same outfit which seems to have been very fashionable in 1992. Also the colours’ intensity is much higher in 1992 than fifteen years later. There are many different colours represented in both years, but the colours of 2007 are less lurid and intense.
5.1.6 Shoe fashion In 40 to 60 percent of the pictures the feet are not visible, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions what comes to shoe fashion. On all the pictures that show shoes, high heels are in majority, followed by boots in the winter months January and February. The year 2007 shows a higher frequency of high heels than 1992. In the spring months March and April the frequency of sandals and ballerinas is increasing, probably due to the warmer season. Sneakers seem to be quite unfashionable during these months in both years which could be traced back to the fact that they are not considered as winter fashion or that ELLE is communicating rather a glamorous and elegant than sporty and casual style. However, on average more sneakers are represented in 1992 than in 2007 which can be a sign of ELLE’s (or maybe even a social change) of style over the years: shifting from a more casual fashion to elegant, classy and more feminine style. Diagram 8 - Shoes 1992 (N=140) 60
2007 (N=127) Highheels
30 Sandals/Balleri nas
Not v isible
Not v isible shoes
5.1.7 Jewellery The most striking thing which can be recognised when looking at the frequency distribution of various pieces of jewellery is that the models in 2007 wear much less jewellery than in 1992. While women in 1992 often wore several jewellery pieces at once, it is more fashionable in 2007 to choose one or at most two pieces of jewellery. Often the models do not have any jewellery at all, especially when the rest of the outfit is quite eye-catching. The most common jewellery in 2007 is bracelets and necklaces but hardly any earrings which were highly in fashion in 1992. The colour of jewellery is quite balanced; both silver and gold are represented equally in both years. Diagram 9 - Jewellery 1992 (N=140)
60 Necklace Bracelet
5.1.8 Make up Wearing coloured lipstick156 seems to be quite unfashionable in 2007 and more common in 1992. Natural make up157 or only strong eye make up like black mascara or a flamboyant eye shadow are common in 2007 and lipstick is more frequently used in the winter months January and February. 1992 shows both, women with strong make up colours and women with a natural look. Wearing both, lipstick and eye make up is yet more fashionable in 1992 than 2007. Rouge is rather uncommon in both years, only in February ’92 and April ’07 some women had rouge on. Diagram 10 – Make up 1992 (N=140) 45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0
Lipstick (coloured) Eye make up Rouge No / natural make up Make up
Face not v isible
45 40 35 30
Lipstick (coloured) Eye make up
25 20 15 10 5 0
Rouge No / natural make up Make up
Face not v isible
5.1.9 Accessories Hats and head scarves are fashionable accessories for women in both time periods. Also gloves seem to be important accessories, both winter gloves and more elegant evening gloves. Sunglasses are more frequent in March and April in both years. In the spring months March and April 2007 the models were wearing more accessories than during the winter months. More electronic accessories (like mobile phone, camera or MP3 player) were found in 2007 than 1992. In total, more accessories were found in 1992 than in 2007. Diagram 11 - Accessories 1992 (N=140) 25
2007 (N=127) Mobile phone MP3/Walkman
20 Mobile phone
Hat / head scarf Glov es
Hat/head scarf Glov es Watch
Note: With “coloured lipstick” I have only considered flashy colours like red or pink. Note: By “no/natural make up” I have considered make up that is not visible.
Body language and physical characteristics
5.2.1 Body Proportions The average body proportions of the models are skinny or very slender respectively158. Women with “average” proportions159 or more precisely women with clothes that do not accentuate the slim body are frequently found in 1992, where the fashion garments did not emphasise a very skinny body. In 2007 more accents are put on the body proportions through tight or short fashion garments. In 1992 the body contours weren’t definable or visible in 34 percent of the pictures. The fashion was more loose and casual and less tight or short garments were shown, compared to 2007. Diagram 12 – Body proportions 1992 (N=140)
body not v isible/defin.
body not v isible/defin.
5.2.2 Visible body parts Characteristic for both years are whole body shootings of the presented model. Photographs showing only the face are very rare. This is certainly due to the fact that these pictures do not show any clothing, which virtually is the main function of fashion features. Diagram 13 – Body parts 1992(N=140)
(alm os t) w hole body
uppe r body (hip upw ards ) only face
20 0 body parts
(almost) whole body upper body (hip upwards) only face
50 40 30 20 10 0
Note: Skinny types I have considered to be the “typical” model physique, very slim and long. Note: As „average“ I have considered women whose bodies are slim but do not stick out as very skinny, mostly because of their clothing which is not too tight and often covers the body silhouette. 159
5.2.3 Nudity Another striking difference between 1992 and 2007 is certainly the degree of bare skin. In all four months of 1992 (especially in January and February), the clothes are covering the whole body. A cleavage, bare arms or legs are fairly infrequent, compared to the fashions in 2007. Considering that the first months of the year are very cold in Sweden and people use to wear warm clothes, the fashion in 2007 does not really reflect this fact. The models are still wearing thin dresses and showing a lot of bare skin. There were almost no “almost naked”160 pictures discovered in both years though. This can also be partly traced back to the cold season. Diagram 14 – Grade of nudity 1992 (N=140)
2007 (N=127) almost naked
40 lot of bare skin
35 lot of bare skin
bare arms/legs or cleav age
body all cov ered
not v isible
bare arms or legs or cleav age
body all cov ered
10 5 0
grade of nudity
grade of nudity
not v isible
5.2.4 Facial expression Another remarkable difference between 1992 and 2007 is that the models are happier, thus smiling or even laughing161, on the images of ‘92. Especially in the spring months March and April the models from 1992 are laughing a lot. In the issues of 2007 no picture with a laughing model could be found, only a few images where the model is slightly smiling. But in general the models all look cool and distant without any facial expressions. Diagram 15 – Facial expression 1992 (N=140)
not smiling 40
laughing face not v isible
not smiling 40
laughing face not v isible
5.2.5 Eye contact and line of sight The eye contact between the model and the viewer is sort of balanced in both years. The amount of pictures where the models look directly or in another direction is about the same 160
Note: With “almost naked” I have considered models wearing only lingerie or swimwear. Note: The difference I have made between “smiling” and “laughing” is that the latter one includes visible teeth and a stronger facial expression, whereas the smiling women have their lips closed. 161
between both years. There are some differences between the several months but a certain trend is not visible. Concerning the models’ line of sight the majority is looking with about the same frequency either straight into the camera or sideward. In three issues of 2007 (January, February and April) but only once in 1992 (March), the models’ line of sight was upwards into the camera. In that aspect, there seems to have been a change within the years. Nowadays it is more common that the model looks up which apparently was uncommon in the beginning of the 90’s. However, in general, the downwards and especially the straight forward direction seems to be most common in fashion photography in both years. Diagram 16 – Eye contact 1992 (N=140)
60 into camera
40 other direction
not definable/eyes not v isible
45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5
up into camera down into camera straight into camera sidewards not v isible line of sight
not definable/eyes not v isible
Diagram 17 – Line of sight 1992 (N=140)
45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0
up into camera down into camera straight into camera sidewards not v isible line of sight
5.2.6 Grade of activity Most models in the pictures are standing, followed by active motions like walking, running or posing actively. The frequency of lying models is higher in 2007 than 1992. Otherwise, the grade of activity seems to be the same in both years, only monthly varying.
Diagram 18 – Grade of activity 1992 (N=140)
2007 (N=127) 50
50 activ e/in motion
activ e/in motion
grade of activ ity
only upper body v isible
only upper body v isible grade of activ ity
5.2.7 Race / ethnicity As I have already mentioned it is hard to determine the model’s origin or nationality by means of their skin colour or looks. Having “race and ethnicity” as an own category is merely culturally constructed and only gives information about the women’s outward appearance, their different ethnical look, but not their actual nationality (all these women might be Swedes). As discovered in the “complexion” paragraph, there are more dark skinned women represented in 1992 than in 2007. In the first four months of 2007 only white models were represented in the Swedish ELLE. In February 1992, however, over 40 percent of the images contained women with a darker skin type, thus with another ethnicity and heritage. In March 1992 it was about 15 percent women with darker skin, and in April 1992 over 20 percent were black women. Asian women were shown neither in 1992 nor 2007. Diagram 19 – Race /ethnicity 1992 (N=140) 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0
White Asian Black Other
100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0
White Asian Black Other
Surroundings and environment
5.3.1 Setting 1: Natural environment or photo studio? The first two months in 2007 take place more frequently in natural environments162, whereas there were more shoots taken in a photo studio in March and April. In 1992 it is vice versa. In average though, 1992 contains a higher frequency of pictures taken in natural environments (54 percent) compared to 2007 where it is fairly balanced between natural environment and shots taken in a photo studio.
Note: “Natural environments“ are all settings outside a photo studio in natural surroundings.
Diagram 20 – Setting 1 1992 (N=140)
natural env ironment
natural env ironment
5.3.2 Setting 2: Rural or urban environment? The fashion shootings in January 1992 have either taken place in a photo studio or it is not definable whether it was in an urban or rural environment. In February ’92 it is almost balanced between rural and urban settings. In the first two months of 2007 there are no urban environments depicted at all, mostly photo studio shoots (55-70 percent), and between 30 and 40 percent of the pictures are taken in rural or natural environments. Also in March and April 2007 most pictures are taken in a photo studio (between 50 and 80 percent). All other pictures of these months take place in urban environments. Diagram 21 – Setting 2 1992 (N=140)
50 urban rural/nature
40 30 20 10 0
rural/nature photo studio undefinable
10 Setting 2
The content analysis has given informative and remarkable results regarding both differences and similarities between the years 1992 and 2007. The year 1992 has proved to contain more women of ethnicity other than European. 2007 has not shown a single image of a woman with another skin colour than white which is quite astonishing because I had expected it to be the other way round. Sweden and Europe has become increasingly international, not least due to their accedence in the EU in 1995. Different nationalities and ethnicities have grown together within the last decades and contributed to a more multicultural Europe. Therefore, it is remarkable that the Swedish ELLE in 2007 is not presenting more women of other than European origin or another than the “typical” Northern European woman. Another interesting result I have discovered is that women in 1992 had less tight clothes and were dressed more casually, like big pullovers or jackets, high-necked tops or loose fitting pants. This fashion style has also proven to show less bare skin. Furthermore, women wearing pants were high frequently shown in 1992. In 2007 dresses and skirts and very tight or and only short pants are in fashion, which shows a big contrast to the fashion style in 1992. The 38
models in 1992 were very thin but the fashion garments did not emphasise the female body this extremely as nowadays, the curves and body contours were more often covered by loose clothes which makes the 1992 woman seem more natural and having “average” body proportions. The third theme which proved to have a significant difference between both years regards the facial expressions. 1992 seems to have been a much “friendlier” and “happier” year than 2007. The depicted models are smiling and laughing more often, whereas in 2007 the women are more serious looking and can be described as reserved and cool by their indifferent and aloof facial expressions. Also the fashion colours are differing between both years. 1992 was influenced by bright and flashy colours as pink, glaring green and red etc. 2007 did not include any pink at all, and the other colours were mainly represented in more reserved tones. Dark colours as black, dark blue and grey as well as white have been fashionable in both years and can therefore be seen as classical colours which never really go out of style. In year 1992 the models were wearing more often hats and jewellery for accessory. 2007 shows more electronic devices like MP3 player and mobile phones instead (cp. ELLE 04/07). To interpret these results more detailed and find out the different connotations the images might evoke I am now going to examine the images semiotically. For this I have selected one image from each month which reflects different characteristic traits of the female picture within the particular year. I have named these female types according to their “role”, image and style. At this point, I want to mention that there are of course more female types represented in the several magazines than I am going to analyse, but due to the restrictions in terms of the length of this thesis I am only going to analyse eight image units in total.
READING THE IMAGES – Qualitative analysis
For the semiotic analysis I have selected a number of pictures (one image unit from each month) which have proven to be characteristic for the particular year’s fashion, style and picture of women. For this, I am primarily reverting to the main categories I have determined in the previous chapter: fashion and looks, body language and environments. By help of the results I gained through the content analysis I can determine which images reflect the “typical” female attributes and characteristic traits. In 2007 I have found (amongst others) the following types: 1) The distant snow queen 2) The “immaternal” woman 3) The objectified female 4) The metropolitan lifestyle woman The first four months of year 1992 has contained (amongst others) the following types: 1) The arbitrary female 2) The “colour-mad” female 3) The unisex style 4) The multicultural female These female images and identities I am now going to analyse semiotically in order to find out how their outward appearance functions as a communication system. My analysis will also connect the pictures to a wider social and cultural context which is important in order to decode the images in a more extensive and comprehensible way.
The fashionable female in 2007
The first four months in 2007 show women of various types and with different fashion styles. Mostly, the women are dressed up in elegant and fashionable dresses within extraordinary environments (except for the pictures taken in a photo studio). In the following, I am going to present different female identities which are represented in the ELLE issues 1-4 of 2007 and analyse the characteristic traits which are typical for 2007.
6.1.1 The distant snow queen Denotations The selected fashion feature of the January issue has the theme “Crystal clear” (orig.: “Kristallklart”) and represents a model sitting on a rock, surrounded by snow and ice and a bright sky which almost seems white because of the intense sun light in the background (see appendix 3, ELLE 01/07). The model is a blond woman with long, curly hair. This is a quite unusual type according to the results of the previous content analysis which showed that women with dark hair are overrepresented. Another thing that is “unusual” for 2007 is that she is wearing pants. Other clothing garments the model is wearing are a fur vest, fur gloves and fur boots. Moreover she is accessorised with a pearl necklace and a brooch. Connotations The picture delivers the impression of a cold, hard and frosty environment, which is supported by the windy circumstances that can be discerned by the model’s blowing hair and her slightly reddened cheeks. The above mentioned “hardness” is associated by the big, snow covered rock the model is sitting on, while the impression of coldness is connoted by the snow. The surroundings are a contrast to the model’s clothing which contains of a number soft and warm garments. Fur has the positive connotation of warmth and softness, but also of luxury and the 40
more negative association with pretentiousness and swank. The connotation of luxury and elegance are also evoked by the pearl necklace and brooch. Pearls are moreover connoted with femininity as they are not common in our culture to be worn by men. Choosing a blond woman with long hair, natural curls, and blue eyes makes her on the fit in well with the colours of the surroundings. The light, icy and cool atmosphere is both reflected by the model’s outward appearance as well as the setting. She appears absent because her gaze is not directed towards the camera but to the far distance behind the camera objective. Her body language makes the model appear cool, emotionless and aloof. Her posture communicates a self-confident and superior attitude. This is partly due to the camera angle which lets the model seem to sit above the viewer, but also her hands which she has propped on her thighs. Bedsides her physical attributes, the colours of her clothing fit together with the environment. Blue and white are often connected with ice and water which in this context forms a parallel between the wintry setting, the pure fashion style, the model’s physical attributes and the theme “Crystal clear”. The nature and fashion seem to merge in terms of colour, which has the result that also the woman is accredited to these features and makes her to a cold and distant character. Furthermore, the fashion theme has a metaphorical denotation as “crystal clear” means in the Swedish language that something is clear, transparent or selfevident. This could be connected with the fashion style being pure and plain, without any colourful or eye-catching details. Context and cultural codes The whole setting of the fashion shoot takes place on a glacier, surrounded by snow, ice and a clear blue sky. The fashion colours consist mainly of white or silver which have a resemblance to crystal as well as snow and ice and therefore build a unity with the fashion theme, the setting, and the model type. The woman’s character is a bit arbitrary regarding the feature as a whole, which shows her first as a snow princess - romantic, playful and innocent - and then in turn as a snow queen, more dominant and self-confident. Seeing the model in this environment and including the rest of the fashion feature makes clear that this woman is in the same environment, a glacier, but playing different roles. This unusual environment, however, makes the image interesting because of these contrasts and paradoxes which can be seen as characteristic for fashion photography in 2007. The snow works as a signifier for winter and coldness which moreover builds a parallel to the present hibernal fashion season. The clothing is connoted as wintry due to the fur gloves and boots and the style evokes the connotations of preciousness and extravagance due to our cultural myth that fur is expensive, luxury and rare. Another ideology that can be connected to fur is the ethical issue of animal protection. Animal activists would perceive the image as extremely ignorant towards the fauna and animal rights. In the illustrations beneath I have exemplified how Barthes’ two, respectively three orders of signification work within this image. First and second order of signification Signifier
Snow, icy rocks
Boots, gloves, vest
Third order of signification Signifier
Wintry climate, environment
Coolness, aloofness, callousness
Fur vest, boots and gloves
Luxury, wealth, ignorance, swank
Elegance, femininity, class
The signs mentioned above compose the general impression of the picture as a whole. The process of signification takes place unconsciously but influences our perception and ways of interpretation and the eventual identification with the depicted type of woman. This image shows how a certain female type is chosen to represent fashion within an environment that “fits” with the woman’s outward appearance, thus how a blond woman with blue eyes for example is connoted as the “cool blonde”, due to her distant, aloof and superior behaviour but also the fashion colours and environments.
6.1.2 The “immaternal” woman Denotations The fashion feature “Swedish heart” (orig. “Svenska hjärtan”) in ELLE 02/07 (see appendix 3) presents another female identity which depicts a woman holding a baby in a fairly clumsy way. She does not hold the baby in an appropriate position but rather awkward and instable, more like an object than a human being. It almost seems as if she wants to hold the baby away from her as the baby’s head is far away from the woman’s chest. She looks directly in the camera, sitting in a stiff position while posing. The woman is wearing a red top under a black dress and high heel sandals. Her brown hair is loose, which is characteristic for 2007. The baby seems to wear the same or similar red t-shirt like the woman. Connotations The model’s focused gaze straight into the camera makes the woman look like as if she was not really interested in or focused on the baby but rather on posing for the camera which makes the depicted situation kind of contrieved. This pose signals the distance between both individuals which makes the model, in case she is perceived as the baby’s mother, appear quite “immaternal” and callous. Here, we have the signifier of a woman and a baby, which I have signified as mother and child due to my cultural and social codes. On the third level of signification, our cultural myth or ideology, one can read the woman’s “immaternity”, signalled by her awkward way of holding the baby. In our culture it is common to hold an infant nearby the chest, in the most stabile and safe way. In this picture however, the baby is lying upside down in a fairly insecure position, and with its head far away from the woman’s chest. Here, the signs connote an unusual situation where we do not see a common motherchild relation because of the lack of nearness, warmth and security. In the following I am decoding this image according to Peirce’s sign system consisting of index, icon and symbol. The picture is an iconic sign for a woman and a baby, for this is what we can see objectively in this picture, without any subjective interpretation or valuation. Then we decode this unit of signs symbolically which makes the two depicted individuals to mother and child as we are used to imply that a woman who is holding a baby in her arms is presumably the baby’s mother. The indexical sign within this image can be seen in the pile of mattresses the woman is sitting on. This could be an index for existing beds, somewhere nearby, which in turn is an index for the location which could be a home, or even more precisely, a bed room.
In contrast to the paradoxical relationship between the woman and the baby, they still seem to form a unity because of their matching clothes. The likeliness of the woman’s and the baby’s outfits still signals togetherness between both individuals and is an indication for that they at least cannot be total strangers to each other. The woman’s outfit seems elegant at first sight, due to the colours red and black and her fancy patent leather sandals. But taking a closer look shows that she actually is wearing an oversized t-shirt, combined with a black dress. Also her hair looks undone which gives her style a fairly contradictory look, both dressy and casual at the same time. The syntagm of style This interrelation and contradiction between our immanent and culturally constructed fashion codes can be illustrated the way Barthes has described fashion as a system. A clothing garment can change its meaning (or style) by combining it with other garments. Here in this picture, the model is wearing a red t-shirt which normally would be signified as casual and sporty. By combining it with a classy black dress and high heels it instantly turns into a more elegant and dressy outfit. To illustrate how ELLE magazine transforms a casual piece of clothing into a dressy outfit, I will use Barthes’ signifying matrix mentioned above (see chapter 3.3). T-shirt T-shirt + black dress + high heels
= casual = dressy, in style
According to Barthes, the T-shirt would be the object, the black dress the support and the high heels the variant, as this fashion item changes the outfit’s perception. Here, the combination of different fashion items can change the whole syntagm. As Chandler has defined it, “a syntagm is an orderly combination of interacting signifiers which forms a meaningful whole within a text - sometimes, following Saussure, called a ‘chain’.”163 Barnard describes this interrelation in the following way: Non-verbal signs such as fashion change the context, the syntagm, in which they appear. New items of fashion and clothing change context, the syntagm, in which they appear and thus alter the meanings of all other items in the syntagm, in the same way as the addition of a word to a sentence, for example, alters the meaning of the sentence.164
Thus, a casual t-shirt can be made fashionable and stylish by combining it with other garments which connote a more “dressy” style, as high heels or by putting the object into a nice setting which evokes associations of wealth, class and style. The surroundings play a decisive role in how the outfit is perceived by the viewer. The setting in this image is a room within an old building, signified by the style of the wall in the background, the parquet floor and the oldfashioned look of the mattresses. Furthermore, the pile of mattresses is a hint that the building must have many rooms which is a sign for prosperity, connoted by the materialistic ideology within our culture. Context and cultural codes The feature carries the fashion theme ”The Swedish heart” (orig.: ”Svenska hjärtan”), and is thereby connected to the magazine’s country of production, thus Sweden. By this, the feature addresses directly the Swedish readership as it builds a common level between the feature and the reader. “Swedish heart” carries the connotation of patriotism and pride. A heart is also a common known symbol of love and sympathy within many cultures. Moreover, “Svenska hjärtan” was a popular Swedish TV series during the 1980’s, which dealt with families living together in a row house. The connotation with this series requires a common cultural mindset or acquirements of the readership, which is a good example for a paradigmatic sign. The paradigmatic relations between the series and this fashion feature work as signifiers and are connected intertextually. The counterpart, thus the series, is absent from the text, thus the
Chandler, Semiotics for Beginners, http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem03.html, 070512. Barnard, p. 171.
fashion feature, but has been learned and internalised by the reader. The connotation with this series shows another contradiction, the series’ representation of a conventional family life in a row house on the one hand, and the modern, immaternal woman in a luxurious apartment on the other, both representing the “Swedish heart”. This shows how certain ideals or stereotypes have changed within our society since the 80’s. Another contextual coherence can be found within the world of fairy tales. The image reminds of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairy tale “The princess and the pea” which is about a princess sleeping on a pile of mattresses and still feeling the peas lying underneath because of her high sensitivity. This lets the woman seem like a princess which is also a symbol for femininity and innocence, and makes her instantly seem more sensitive and in some way magical. This connotation, however, depends on the reader’s cognition of the fairy tale. Moreover, this contextual connotation stands in contrast to the colours both the baby and the woman are wearing. Black and red are hardly colours one would associate with a princess, but rather with a bad witch. Neither do red and black represent “conventional” baby colours, which would rather be white, rosé or light blue. This contrast is also intensified by the surrounding’s light and soft pastel tones. All these connotative and visual contradictions make this photography to a more artistic than realistic image. Nevertheless, it communicates the type of woman that is everything but maternal or mature. She seems to be incapable of holding a baby and taking care of it. This image can also be seen as an antagonism to the traditional ideology or myth of that a woman is born as a mother and housekeeper and is represented in this way by the media, which has often been criticised by feminists. This image reflects rather the “modern” woman who has no experience with children and probably has hired a nanny to take care of the child. She is probably uninterested in having children but preferring her career or a luxurious lifestyle. Instead of casual or leisure clothing, which one would expect a mother to wear in a domestic environment, the model is wearing a combination of a casual but yet dressy outfit at home. This contradictory representation of the woman as an incompetent mother figure reflects important social changes taken place within the last decades. David Gauntlett refers to Angela McRobbie when stating that women’s magazines already have incorporated many feminist ideas and taken their critique on the media’s representation of women seriously by trying to countervail these stereotypical images of female roles within society, as being a mother, housekeeper or sexual object.165
6.1.3 The objectified female Denotations The following picture unit I am going to analyse belongs to the fashion feature “Prêt à porter”166. It consists of two images which have to be analysed together in order to make sense (see appendix 3, ELLE 03/07). This is a typical example for what is described as a syntagmatic sign system. The signs of the one picture can only be signified correctly by seeing the other picture. The first picture shows a gaggle of photographers, all focusing their camera objectives towards the same direction. The second picture depicts a woman who is shrouded in a black and a yellow hoody. She seems to walk while looking back, holding one finger on her lips. The background is quite blurry but it could depict a big building. The text underneath the second picture tells “Rue Bonaparte” which I have included in order to analyse the connotative meanings this can evoke when reading the image. Connotations The gaggle of photographers is an index of a big event and something sensational to happen. Furthermore, the photographers are all very concentrated and in position to take this important shot. What this sensation could be is unclear because the object of interest the cameras are 165 166
Cp. Gauntlett, p. 206 f. French for “ready to wear” fashion.
directed towards is behind the photographer who has taken this picture and therefore not visible for the viewer. This makes it indispensable to include the second picture as well. The model’s facial expression and body language exude insecurity and anxiety. Holding one finger on her lips can be interpreted as a sign for insecurity. Also her look aback is an indication for that she is tracked by someone and it seems as if she was trying to escape or hide from it. The big building behind the model signifies an urban setting and can be seen as a symbol for city life. Langue and parole The text “Rue Bonaparte” can already be difficult to decode on the first level of signification as it is a foreign language. Only by knowing French, thus the “langue”, as Saussure called it, makes it possible to understand the “parole”, the actual message. “Rue Bonaparte” means Bonaparte street in French which is the evidence that the setting probably is a street in a French city, probably Paris, as this is generally connected with fashion as it is commonly known to be the fashion capital of the world. The textual part is therefore an important signifier for how we decode the image on the second order of signification which would connote the pictures’ setting. Combining both images sheds light on the whole situation and gives both pictures deeper meaning. The photographers shown on the first picture are obviously shooting the lady on the second picture who is apparently escaping from the flurry of flashbulbs. In order to analyse the images on its semiotic contents, the colours are considered to be significant signs. Both pictures are quite dark in its content of colours which is an index for that this scenery takes place by night. The gaggle of photographers is an index for their role of being paparazzi because they often stand in big groups to take a shot of one celebrity. Paparazzi could also a symbol of persecution, harassment and mass media. In our culture we know that this kind of photographers earn their money by following famous people in order to get a “good shot” that can be sold to many tabloids. The fact that the woman is connected with the paparazzi is an index for her role as celebrity. In addition to her body language, she is trying to hide herself underneath her hood and a cap which covers her hair and symbolically a part of her identity. It is a sign for reluctance of being recognised or photographed in this situation. She is wearing dark eye make up which emphasises her eyes which are full of fear or insecurity. She has covered her light yellow hoody with a black one which is a less flamboyant colour and another indexical sign for her attempt to stay incognito. The transparent purse she is carrying can be interpreted as a symbol for the transparency of her life. She does not have any privacy and lives in a constant fear of being followed by paparazzi and the public media who are intruding and literally getting insight to her private life. Context and cultural codes One could argue that fashion and celebrities belong together like music and pop stars. The one complements the other and gets even more powerful and influential by combining them. Especially nowadays the importance of celebrities has become huge due to their increased publicity in the mass media. Comparing the Swedish ELLE covers from 1992 and 2007 shows clearly that nowadays the covers mostly contain a celebrity, as in my case the popstar and style icon Gwen Stefani on the February issue, the American actress and model Dita von Teese who is represented on the March cover, as well as the actress Angelina Jolie, represented on the April 2007 issue. Nowadays, fashion and celebrities are closely connected because the fashion world and celebrities are often combined by the media. Famous people are often presented as “style icons”, wearing the latest fashion trends, and work thereby as objects of identification and role models for many women. This type of woman, the “media celebrity”, is a new one that has emerged with the rise of the mass media and film industry and increased immensely during the past fifteen years. Supermodels have become the status of super stars, increasingly since the end of the 1980’s and beginning of the 90’s with common known models as Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, to name a few. Models have become as big 45
celebrities as movie or music stars which makes the world of fashion to a media spectacle. This image or type of woman is a current issue regarding the increasing celebrity hype in the mass media. Feminist media studies have often criticised that women are made to objects by the ways media represent them. Here, the ELLE magazine takes up the issue of objectifying the female into a media phenomenon people only want to look at and shows its critical attitude and awareness. Analysing this kind of situation one can even draw a wider, more extreme parallel to Princess Diana, who by the way also held the status of a fashion icon, and her fatal destiny of being tracked by paparazzi till death. All this happened ten years ago, also in Paris which reinforces the parallel between Princess Diana and the image.
6.1.4 The metropolitan lifestyle woman Denotations The fourth type of woman I have chosen to analyse on its semiotic content is from the April issue of 2007 and represented in the fashion feature “Well prepared” (orig.: “Välpreparerad”) (see appendix 3, ELLE 04/07). This image contains a number of signs which might evoke interesting connotations and reflect the new, “modern” woman connected with a certain metropolitan lifestyle. The image shows a young woman sitting in a chair and talking on her silver coloured mobile phone while holding a take-away coffee in her other hand. The paper cup is showing the icon of the American coffee house chain “Starbucks”. The model is wearing big black sunglasses, beige shorts and a red sweatshirt with yellow stripes and has a yellow and white scarf burled around her neck. Her brown hair is loose and looks natural, not styled, which is, as mentioned before, a “fashionable” look in 2007, as we can see on the results of the content analysis. She is sitting relaxed in a chair, probably outside the coffee shop as you can see the blurry contours of a street and trees in the background. Next to her on the table lie a pile of magazines and a shopping bag is standing right next to the table. Connotations The woman’s mobile phone could function as a symbolic sign for modernity, mobility and communication and as an index for accessibility, values that have become increasingly important nowadays and which show a technical development compared to 1992. Hence, these devices indicate the time period the picture was produced in. The silvery design of the phone is furthermore a symbol for elegance and style, especially since this is not a common colour for mobile phones, and therefore signalises individuality what comes to style and uniqueness. The meanings of the signs are, as I have mentioned earlier, arbitrary and might connote different things to different people within different cultures. I was able to decode the Starbucks coffee icon because it is a famous global coffee house chain with cafés worldwide, in cities I have been to and which is why I was able to decode this sign and build a wider context. The Starbucks sign is the symbol of the coffee house which has to be learned as they do not have a natural connection to each other. The paper cup is an index for a take-away beverage, in this case most probably coffee, since Starbucks is a coffee house. The fact that the woman is drinking a Starbucks coffee is furthermore an index for the location, thus a bigger city, as Starbucks only has its cafés placed in bigger cities. Starbucks is furthermore considered to be “the-mother-of-all” big coffee house chains, but often criticised for its commercial ideology and therefore frequently connoted with impersonality and overpriced coffee, and also connoted with the “Americanisation” of European culture. The shorts connote casualness and work as an index for leisure time as they are usually not worn at work. Also her sweatshirt in bright yellow and red indicates sportiness, combined with the light yellow and white scarf which intensifies the outfit’s casualness. But even though
her outfit is casual and sporty, she is wearing a set of silver bracelets which show that she is still setting value on extra accessories, in spite of the casualness. This stands in contrast to 1992 where jewellery was rather worn with dressy outfits, not casual ones. The scarf and sunglasses are signifiers for the climate and season, which most probably is a sunny spring day, due to the fashion line that is presented and the magazine’s month of publishing. The colours indicate rather a warm season than autumn or winter as bright colours are usually associated with spring and summer fashion. Besides, the scarf signalises that it is still a bit chilly outside which could be an index for a sunny but windy spring day. In addition, the model’s tanned skin and sunglasses are further indexical signs for the climate, thus sunny weather. Her very relaxed sitting posture is a sign of her mindset and lifestyle. She is taking the time to sit and talk on the phone and drink her coffee, not rushing through busy streets with her take-away coffee. This woman does not seem to be stressed at all - which is often associated with a metropolitan lifestyle - but sits and enjoys her break or day off with a coffee and her magazines. The magazines connote that she must have the time to read them. They also show the woman’s interest in popular culture such as fashion for instance, which instantly makes the reader identify herself with this woman as she is doing the same thing like the reader does at this very moment. The sunglasses have the primary function to protect the eyes from the sun light. However, on the second level of signification, sunglasses can also have the connotation of coolness or style-consciousness. Another sign that functions as an index is the big shopping bag next to the woman which shows that she has been or is going to do some shopping. It can also be seen as a symbolical sign for shopping, and the subliminal ideology of a society in which consumption takes in a huge part of everyday life. Context and cultural codes Angela McRobbie argues that women nowadays are trapped in this, what she calls, “consumer culture”167. This culture is maintained and intensified by popular media forms such as fashion magazines, advertising, movies etc. This picture shows, alike the previous image, a quite naturalistic moment, which depicts an everyday situation and not a typical fashion shot where the model is apparently posing for the camera. Due to her activity, this woman is perceived as a “normal”, everyday woman, not a model posing in front of the camera or playing the role of a celebrity who is in a for the viewer unfamiliar situation. This picture would therefore most likely serve as a “role model” for the viewer as this type of woman is living a lifestyle which is not unfamiliar to the ELLE magazine reader. However, considering the fashion feature as a whole, it shows a very luxurious, carefree lifestyle of several women, represented in locations and situations as fancy houses or on a yacht, sunbathing and relaxing which carries the connotation and ideology of being rich makes life care- and stress-free.
6.1.5 Summary As Jonathan Bignell points out when discussing the meanings of popular magazines, one cannot assume that the representations of feminine identity found in women’s magazines accurately reflect the lives and identities of “real” women. But they represent a signified concept of femininity which is to be differentiated from masculinity.168 From this point of view these magazines “work to construct a mythic world of the feminine”169. The pictures and styles I have analysed in this chapter have shown the mythic femininity of 2007 in various ways but they all deliver the same message of an independent woman who appears distant and aloof and does not reflect the stereotypes women used to
McRobbie, p. 31. Bignell, p. 59. 169 Ibid., p. 60. 168
represent. She is rather an autonomous lady, no matter which lifestyle she is choosing. The various lifestyles which have been analysed above have shown A) an elegant, luxurious woman within a snowy, natural surrounding who is taking in a distant and unapproachable identity, B) a girlish, “immaternal” type of woman who does not seem to care as much about the baby in her arms as taking in the correct pose the camera, presented as a stylish and modern but still casual type and living in a nice house or apartment, C) a woman who is tracked by paparazzi and lives the “typical” lifestyle of a celebrity, being elegant and fashionable but appearing to have everything but her freedom and privacy, and last but not least D) a modern, metropolitan woman who is living a luxury consumer lifestyle.
The fashionable woman in 1992
Jennifer Craik claims in her book that “(…) women’s magazines employ consumer behaviour as a set of techniques – instructions, principles and instruments – out of which a practical femininity can be constructed.”170 To which degree this part of external femininity, thus the image of the modern, fashionable woman, is constructed by ELLE magazine in Sweden I am now going to investigate in detail, by help of four selected images (one from each month) which show the “typical” characteristics of the woman in 1992. I am going to analyse each image systematically on its denotative, connotative and contextual contents.
6.2.1 The arbitrary female Denotations The first issue of 1992 contains five fashion themes. I have chosen to analyse an image from the feature called “Speed phantoms” (orig. “FartFantomer”, ELLE 01/92, see appendix 4). This image depicts two women standing closely next to each other, the one a bit in front of the other, wearing a skiing outfit containing of an overall, skiing glasses and gloves. They look straight into the camera which makes clear that these women are deliberately posing for the camera and therefore perceived as acting in a contrived situation. Both women are smiling, which is another characteristic trait for 1992. Their outfits are very colourful which has also proven to be typical for the 1992 fashion. Blue, pink and purple are the main colours of the women’s outfits, colours which have shown not to be very fashionable in 2007, at least not in combination. One woman has long, blond, the other one short and dark brown hair. Short hair is more typical for 1992 than nowadays where the majority of women have long hair (only one fashion feature has depicted a woman with short hair in 2007, cp. ELLE 02/07). The short haired woman is wearing more blue garments whereas the front woman is wearing pink. The front woman has her arms fold, while the other woman has put her hands on her hips. They do not wear any or visible make up. Connotations The viewer understands that this situation is unnatural, due to the fact that the models are standing in a photo studio and that both are looking directly in the camera. This is a “typical” fashion shot and makes clear that these women are not skiing but only posing in these winter outfits. The bright colours of the outfits connote happiness and seem fairly unusual compared to the taste nowadays. They are very flamboyant and unusual for today’s “modern” eye as the colours of 2007 are much more lurid or, when colourful, not combined with other strong colours. Thus, the brightness of the colours could be seen as an index for the particular time period. The woman with long hair can be connoted as the “feminine” one while the woman with short hair is the more masculine type. This culturally influenced connotation that long hair is feminine and short masculine is reinforced by the colours the women are wearing: the “masculine” one has blue, which often is seen as a boyish colour, as I described earlier. The 170
Craik, p. 73.
“feminine” type wears pink accessories, which is connoted with girliness. The lack of make up makes the women look natural which signifies sportiness, casualness and naturalness. This look is typical for 1992 where “stylishness” in everyday life was not that important as it seems to be in 2007 where a casual outfit has to be combined by some extra accessories like jewellery or eye-catching make up. Their body language signalises the “masculine” woman’s strength and self-confidence and the “female” type’s requirement of protection, as she has folded her arms on her chest and standing near the other woman. Context and cultural codes A wider contextual view on this image and its connotative meanings could be drawn when looking at the two types of women, standing nearby each other, looking happy and satisfied which shows their affection to each other and evokes the impression of togetherness. The following interpretation is very subjective but here we could see an effort to depict a female couple, either as good friends or as a homosexual couple. Feminists have often criticised media for their generalisation of heterosexual love and that the “normal” picture of love is the one between man and woman while ignoring queer groups. Here, we can interpret an attempt to balance this gap by showing two women who could represent a gay couple. This attempt of balancing social norms is characteristic for 1992 as I could not recognise a similar attempt in 2007.
6.2.2 The “colour-mad” female Denotations The second issue of 1992 contains a fashion feature with the theme “Crazy about colour” (orig.: “Galen i färg”, ELLE 02/92, see appendix 4). It represents a woman who again poses for the camera and therefore represents a “conventional” fashion shoot. The model is apparently standing in a totally white photo studio which leads all attention on her. She is wearing an extremely colourful outfit which consists of the colours pink, green, yellow, blue and purple. She is wearing a costume consisting of a skirt, a blazer with big shoulder pads and a top underneath. Furthermore she is wearing a number of accessories like a pink purse with a golden chain, purple gloves and a bright green hat. Moreover she is wearing golden earrings and very strong make up: Pink lipstick and dark eye make up. Jewellery and make up has proven to be more characteristic or fashionable in 1992 than in 2007. The model’s skin is very pale which is quite uncharacteristic for 1992 where the average skin tone was a natural complexion. She is holding one hand on her hat, the other one away from her, holding the small purse with two fingers. Her mouth is a bit open and her eyes directed towards the camera objective. Her body is totally covered (besides her face and neck), no bare skin is shown which also is a typical fashion code for 1992. The skirt is quite short but she is wearing purple, opaque tights. The text next to the model says “Crazy about colour” in Swedish which is also the fashion theme of this feature. Connotations The strongest connotations evoke certainly the strong and flashy colours of the women’s outfit and make up. These bright colours stand in strong contrast to the white background which makes the colours seem even more intense. This intensity underlines the textual part: the colours are crazy, especially in this combination. The amount and intensity of the outfit’s colours seems for the “fashion eye” of today a bit too much, too crazy. The impression of craziness is reinforced by the models gaze. She is looking with wide opened eyes, almost staring into the camera. Her eyes, half opened mouth and the hand holding her hat indicate surprise, probably because this colourfulness is fairly unusual and a new trend, even in a time when strong colours were fashionable. Her hand holding the purse with two fingers is a sign for her “chicness” and “ladiness”. This pose is decoded as very feminine as she is standing in this position and also wearing the “typical” female clothing and accessories which are all connoted with femininity: a skirt, a big 49
hat, gloves, a small purse and earrings. A further sign for her femininity are the colours pink, purple. Context Seeing this image evokes instantly associations with the fashion of the 80’s and early 90’s when extreme colours and make up were fashionable. Also the big shoulder pads seem fairly unfashionable nowadays and are always associated with the fashion of this time. The fashion was influenced by new fabrics and discovery of new colour dimensions as neon colours or crazy combinations nobody had dared to wear before. Colours had already become fashionable in the 1970’s with the flower power wave and spirit of happiness. The 1980’s and 90’s were a decade of modernisation and progress, both what comes to fashion, technical innovation and mass media. Social circumstances and movements are often seen on fashion. Therefore, it can be assumed that this spirit of innovation, progress and modernity was also reflected by the new fashion styles. People did not want to look like in former times, they wanted to express their modernity by trying new fashion styles and colours which were very eye-catching and which communicated self-confidence. Women signalised their equality with men by wearing big shoulder pads. Big shoulders have been a sign for masculinity which suddenly was imitated by female fashion. This mix of strong feminine fashion codes (like skirt, hat and earrings) and the combination with hitherto “masculine” fashion codes can be seen as characteristic for the fashion style in the beginning of the 90’s.
6.2.3 The unisex style Denotations The third fashion image is a part of the fashion feature in ELLE 03/92 with the title “First class” (orig. “Förstklassiskt”, see appendix 4). It represents a woman wearing a dark blue suit, combined with a red tie with white dots and a white shirt. Trousers are as we have seen more often represented in 1992 than 2007 and therefore characteristic for this period. The model is wearing red lipstick which is very eye-catching as her complexion is very pale. She has brown hair which has proven to be the dominant hair colour in both years, 1992 as well as 2007. As she is looking sidewards, only her profile can be seen. A part of an antique mirror on a marble wall can be recognised in the background. Connotations The model is standing with her hands in her trouser pockets which can be connoted with nonchalance and casualness. This is contrary to the quite formal suit she is wearing. A suit with a tie is usually connoted with formalness, class and elegance, reinforced by the theme “First class”, and often associated with work or formal occasions, but above all with masculinity. It is not common for women to wear a tie because it is commonly connoted with men. Another contradiction can therefore be seen between the “masculinity” of her outfit and her longer hair and the red lipstick she is wearing, which are typical signs for femininity as lipstick is something men in our culture usually do not wear. Long hair is also rather a sign for femininity than masculinity. Both the red lips and the long hair can therefore be seen as symbols for femininity, but also for seduction and erotic due to inherent cultural and mythic codes. Context and cultural codes These symbolic and mythic connotations may lie behind the influence of the movie industry which uses to represent seductive women wearing glaring red lipstick. The best example in this context would perhaps be the representation of the legendary actress Marilyn Monroe who posthumous still works as “the” embodiment of female sexuality. Combining these two contrary sign systems within one and the same fashion style connotes the unisex trend which means that the same fashion can be worn of men and women.
Suit, tie Sign for masculinity / work / formalness / elegance /class /seriousness Red lipstick, long hair Sign for femininity / seduction / eroticism
These connotations show how the female sexuality is automatically connoted with seduction and eroticism while a suit is connected with work and masculinity. This picture, however, tries to combine both female and male fashion in order to balance and neutralise the conventional gender norms and roles. The fact that the model is not happily smiling into the camera as it was more common in 1992, shows that the “modern” female of this year shall still be taken seriously as she signals elegance and class, not only by her clothing but also her body language which connotes aloofness and self-confidence. As Gauntlett argues in the chapter “Queer theory and fluid identities”171, the binary divide between masculinity and femininity is socially constructed. He is referring to Judith Butler’s idea of causing “gender trouble” in order to challenge the traditional views of masculinity and femininity.172 According to this approach, these gender norms can be changed by giving a different form to our daily performances of identity. 173 In this context we can see another example of ELLE’s effort of breaking cultural ideologies and patterns by introducing a “new” female and presenting the unisex look, the type of woman who is bold enough to combine a feminine look with conventional masculine fashion garments and thereby breaking fashion codes.
6.2.4 The multicultural woman Denotations Last but not least I am going to take a deeper look at an image of the fashion feature in ELLE 04/92 called “City cowboy” (orig.: “Storstads-Cowboy”, see appendix 4). It represents a black woman (which is more typical to be seen in 1992 than fifteen years later), wearing a cowboy outfit containing of a cowboy jacket in brown suede, a jeans shirt underneath, brown cowboy boots, beige shorts and black sunglasses. She is standing in a dirty and old phone booth and talking on the phone. The model has put one leg up on the booth sash bar where the glass window seems to be missing. In the background a part of a car can be recognised. Connotations This image contains many iconic signs which belong both to the first and second level of signification. The signs connoted on the first level are the phone booth which has to be recognised by the viewer in order to understand the picture’s setting and the model’s activity. The woman’s outfit has to be decoded as cowboy style in order to connect to the feature’s theme “City cowboy”. The woman’s ethnicity connotes multi-culture and shows ELLE’s effort in 1992 to include women with other than European ethnicity in their magazine as it reflects the contemporary fact that many different cultures, ethnicities and nationalities live in Sweden and the stereotype of a Swedish woman as blond and blue-eyed is a myth (which can also be see when looking at the results of the content analysis where blond and blue eyed women are in minority, both in 1992 and 2007). This picture however does not seem to take place in a Swedish city which is connoted by the unfamiliar appearance of the phone booth. The woman’s laughter connotes her happiness and that the conversation she is having contains something funny. Her nonchalant pose is not a “typical” feminine pose but more boyish and signalises coolness and laxity. Context and cultural codes
Gauntlett, p. 134 ff. Ibid., p. 135. 173 Ibid., p. 141. 172
The contextual coherence seems a bit paradox as the woman represents a cowgirl but is situated in a city, two indexical signs which do not really fit together on the second level of signification. A cowboy is usually connoted with nature and wildness, not urbanity and technique, which is here connoted by the phone booth and the car in the background. These cultural and contextual codes show again our ideologies we have gained through life experience and in this case certainly the film industry. We know cowboys from westerns or the famous Marlboro cigarette advertisements. Cowboys are besides the connotations mentioned above, associated with masculinity, freedom and coolness because of the contexts we have experienced them through media. Here a woman is depicted as a cowgirl, which again takes up the gender issue. The woman is represented as a tough cowgirl, living in a city and therefore communicating a new, modern picture of women. Moreover, the woman does not represent the “typical” cowgirl who has her origin in the American history and is often connoted with white people and their counterpart, the Indians. The black woman brings in a third level which rejects the hitherto stereotype of a white cowgirl. Hence, three myths merge in this image, the myth of the wild west and cowboys which carries on the one hand the connotations of vastness and inviolated nature and freedom, and on the other hand the connotation of city life which is influenced by civilisation, modernity, and narrowness, and thirdly the myth of a white cowboy. All these ideologies are even more mixed up by letting a black woman represent this fashionand lifestyle. I am now going to summarise the results of 1992 by connecting them directly to the results of 2007.
The big variation of different fashion styles and looks shows ELLE’s effort in 1992 to represent different types of women and a variation of styles. In 2007 the variation of female types is not that big but it seems to represent a wider scope of different lifestyle patterns. In 1992 the women have different styles and types but they all represent an everyday woman type whereas in 2007 the fashion features contain more fantasy and fictional images. The fashion features of nowadays which I have not analysed but are worth mentioning as they represent the contemporary style of fashion photography, contain clothing garments and combinations which in fact are unwearable and only look only nice as an artistic arrangements or serve as style patterns what comes to colours, fabric or a certain female identity (cp. for example ELLE 04/07, p. 171). In 2007 I have found more signs with mythic connotations and symbolic meanings. In 1992 it is more obvious that ELLE magazine tried to reverse certain conventional stereotypes regarding gender roles and fashion. Nowadays the fashion, lifestyle and the art of fashion is more in the focus of representation, while social issues are not brought up this often.
DISCUSSION & FINAL THOUGHTS
The women’s magazines’ conflicting representations of the female as a fashionable individual, living a certain lifestyle, can be confusing as they are apparently offering quite a number of different female identities and fashion styles. On this issue, Buckley and Fawcett argue as follows: The fragmentation of the woman reader into different target groups was echoed in the cheap, as well as in the expensive journals, by the representations of the feminine self as fragmented, dispersed through the journal in its various constituent genres and in the advertisements.174
Hence, the lifestyle that the female reader chooses to imitate or identify herself with (or also distance herself from) is still up to her and not dictated by the magazines. They only give ideas and patterns of how the young, modern and fashionable woman can look like or live like nowadays. ELLE magazine is communicating many different female characters and identities which are represented throughout the years as we have seen by means of the analysis. Hence, in the case of the Swedish ELLE magazine it cannot be claimed that women’s or fashion magazines still communicate a stereotypical, one-sided female picture. Feminist and cultural media studies have often criticised media for their stereotypical representations or objectification of the female body. I have arrived to the conclusion that ELLE has been trying to reverse these traditional gender roles by representing women within different roles and often controversial contexts by taking up social grievances. This effort, however, was more apparent in 1992 than nowadays. The images were questioning the “normal” picture of the Swedish woman by representing her in different roles and showing a bigger variety of fashion styles. This phenomenon is remarkable as the woman’s status within society has developed since then, thanks to the increased emancipation and independency of women from men. But maybe this is why there is not such a strong need anymore to communicate this reversed female picture as it has become more common that the female identity can consist of many different characteristics and does not communicate stereotypical gender images as it used to do. ELLE presents femininity as a fairly fragmented ideal, but still, the ideal of the long, slim and perfect model has in my eyes increased since 1992. This year was influenced more by a naturalistic femininity, which nowadays has turned into a more “stylish” and surreal beauty ideal. Women were more likely to identify themselves with the represented women in 1992 whereas in 2007 there seems to be a bigger gap between the depicted model and the “average” woman, not least because the representations have more often an escapist character. We have seen how fashion can work as a tool of communication and medium to express identity, culture, norms and values as well as a certain way of life. Moreover, we have seen how the analysed images mirror underlying contemporary social issues by picking different ideologies and myths as their central themes. These ideologies are represented through different pictorial elements, such as clothing, body language and the setting, mixing different ideologies or norms and putting them into a new context which gives the “female identity” a new, controversial perspective. Going back to my theoretical framework I introduced in the beginning, feminist media studies have often criticised the media for a distorted female picture. My aim was to figure out to which degree the Swedish ELLE magazine is communicating female stereotypes and gender roles. It can be discussed from different standpoints how the female should be represented “correctly” or more “realistically”, which, however, would be an impossible project as the female gender is socially constructed or as Gauntlett calls it a “performance” 175. As van Zoonen 174 175
Buckley, Fawcett, p. 53. Gauntlett, p. 139.
points out, there is no reference point as to what the “true human, male or female identity consists of” and therefore no directive as to what the media should represent.176 Important is that there is a diversified picture of how the female gender can look like which helps to prevent stereotypes or new ideologies of how a woman has to look like. As mentioned above, the representation of the female in ELLE magazine nowadays women is often fictional, within surroundings which seem unnatural and escapist. This could also be seen as a consequence of often being criticised by feminist media scholars. I would assume that ELLE is trying to eliminate potential feminist criticism by showing more artistic women as the process of identification is thereby rather unlikely. The female reader would not identify herself with these types of women who are represented in unnatural or unusual environments (e.g. on the glacier) and wearing rather artistic outfits. Questionable is though if this development does not lead one step back what comes to breaking traditional norms and showing the diversity of femininity instead. As Gauntlett points out media has the capability to spread a variety of non-traditional images and ideas about how women can appear and act. They can serve a valuable role in shattering conventional roles of “male” and “female”.177 It will be interesting to see how ELLE magazine is going to develop within the next fifteen years and how it is going to function as the contemporary transmitter of fashion, style and femininity.
Van Zoonen, p. 31. Gauntlett, p. 151.
LIST OF REFERENCES
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LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
CDA Critical Discourse Analysis Cp. Compare E.g. for example (abbreviation of Latin “exempli gratia”) Et al. et alii Etc. et cetera Ibid. Ibidem N The size of the sample Orig. Original PR Public Relations Transl. Translated
APPENDIXES Appendix 1 - Coding schedule Physical codes
2 Dark blond/ light brown
No tan (pale)
(Almost) whole body
Upper body (hip upwards) Only face
Lot of bare skin
Bare arms or legs or cleavage
Nudity Face expression
Line of sight
Not definable/eyes Into camera Other direction not visible Up into Down into camera camera Straight into camera
Sitting Other ethnicity
Red Eyes not visible
skin Black/white picture
Body not visible/ definable
all Body not visible Face not visible
Not visible Only upper body visibe
Environmental codes Place of action 12
Fashion Codes 14
Not visible Sandals/balle rinas
Eye make up
No / natural make up
Coloured lipstick Mobile phone
1.1 Gold 1.2 Silver
Orange Light curls/natural volume
Other (body, overall etc) Not visible None
Not visible Hat/head scarf
Black, dark grey/blue
Not definable or visible Not definable
Short Pinned up/ponytail
Middle long (max to shoulders)
(because of styling or hat)
Hair not visible
Appendix 2 – Fashion images of 2007 ELLE 01/07, ”Crystal Clear”, p. 115
ELLE 02/07, ”The Swedish Heart”, p. 93
ELLE 03/07, ”Prêt à porter”, p. 168/169
ELLE 04/07, ”Well prepared”, p. 182
Appendix 3 – Fashion images of 1992 ELLE 01/92, “Speed Phantoms”, p. 92
ELLE 02/92, ”Crazy about Colour”, p. 70
ELLE 03/92, ”First Class”, p. 66
ELLE 04/92, “City Cowboy”, p. 76