Today’s Mag of the Week is an oldy but a goody: Mademoiselle. We have many women’s magazines from the twentieth century in our stacks, each with a different target customer and its own point of view. The thing that distinguished this title was the quality of literature it published alongside beauty tips. Authors such as Truman Capote, Joyce Carol Oates, William Faulkner, Mary Gordon, Barbara Kingsolver, Paul Theroux, and Alice Munro had short stories published within this title.
Mademoiselle was published in 1935 by Street and Smith Publications, which was known for paperback novels and pulp fiction. By the time our print holdings begin in 1946, it’s already subtitled “The magazine for smart women”. Cover stories include “The Mothers and Babies” issue (it is post-war, remember), but they also include “Look where you’re going!” and the answer is college.
A flip through the magazine in 1952 reflects this. There are layouts of cute sweaters, but the theme is “Vote”, and it’s the models who are the candidates. Issues include information on how to dress for a formal dance, and what to wear in suburbia, but also included tips for handling a difficult boss, and a fiction-writing contest that inspired the careers of many young writers. Sylvia Plath and Carson McCullers are published in this issue, and the New York trip to be guest editor for a month was a prize many well-known authors won.
In 1959, Conde Nast publications bought the entire Smith & Street company. Through the 1970s, Mademoiselle maintained its literary chic. But the 1970s were hard on women’s magazines in general because so many things changed.
The title retained its reputation of literary chic through the 1970s, but lost marketing ground to brasher, more explicit titles. Despite its focus on the well-dressed woman with a brain, it’s advice began to seem dusty and outdated. The editors’ responses were to drop the fiction contest and include perkier, shorter lifestyle spots. But unlike Jane, or Sassy, or Cosmopolitan, the title never regained a clear sense of its target customer, resulting in dropping ad sales. By the time industries cleaned house to brace for another recession, Mademoiselle was deemed disposable. The last issue was published in November 2001.