Fashion magazines embrace the average shopper — sort of

Fortysomething cover girls, curvy models and must-have items from Chico’s and White House/Black Market? We’ve known for a while now that fashion no longer belongs solely to the young, rich and reed-thin. It’s on TV and film, and in your local Target store, where Isabel Toledo, who designed First Lady Michelle Obama’s lemon-grass yellow Inauguration Day suit, has a new collection. It has even seeped into the world of baby diapers, now that Cynthia Rowley has lent her design talents to Pampers, of all things.

But to have the idea of fashion for all confirmed in the vaunted September issues, traditionally the biggest magazine issues of the year (some top 700 pages) and a barometer for the health of the publishing industry, is something else.

“If you’ve felt disenchanted and disenfranchised with some of the directions [fashion] has taken recently, fall redresses that beautifully,” Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour writes in her letter to readers, highlighting “no-fuss coats,” “cozy-chic sweaters” and “longer, softer skirts” among the kindler, gentler fall trends.

Vogue’s September issue features a radiant Halle Berry, 44, on the cover. Inside, the actress talks about how her infamous car accident in 2000, when she fled the scene, reset her priorities. As part of her sentence, she was ordered to do community service, which was the start of a continuing relationship with L.A.'s Jenesse Center for victims of domestic violence.

The theme of the issue is “turning a negative situation into a positive one,” Wintour says, which is really what the fashion industry as a whole has been doing to try to make it through the recession. She points to the global shopping stimulus event Fashion’s Night Out as an upside to the downturn, and devotes many pages to promoting the joint initiative between her magazine and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which debuted last year and is planned again for Sept. 10.

But the industry has gotten much more out of the recession than Fashion’s Night Out (a fun evening that happens also to be a major marketing vehicle for Vogue). It has also gotten a reality check. Editors, designers, buyers and casting agents have been forced to come down off their thrones, meet the people and expand the narrow-minded, exclusionary view of fashion.

At magazines, there’s evidence that the new approach may be helping ad sales. Twelve out of 15 fashion magazines sold more ads in their September issues this year than they did a year ago, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Vogue’s September issue also has a story about the role that curvy Victoria’s Secret models played on the fall runways at Louis Vuitton and Prada. And though it may not exactly signal that editors and designers are rolling out the welcome mat for plus-sizes just yet — and, yes, Victoria’s Secret models are rounder than most runway models — it’s the start of a new kind of body acceptance.

The bulk of the clothes featured in Vogue’s editorial pages — from Louis Vuitton, Prada and Marc Jacobs — are expensive. But in the more affordable Index section, one piece in particular sticks out — a $168 rose print sheath from White House/Black Market that is used to illustrate fall’s 1950s trend.

The mall chain may have the first lady fashion ambassador to thank for its new chic status too; Obama has been a fan since the campaign. It should also be noted that White House/Black Market is a Vogue advertiser. Still, the placement was enough to make me visit to see what was up. The store looks like Bebe for grown-ups — feminine sometimes to a fault, and a bit cheap-looking.

Harper’s Bazaar (with cover girl Jennifer Aniston, age 41) features a $48 White House/Black Market pendant necklace in its “best under $500" pages, as well as a $46 Chico’s hammered gold link bracelet.

But at Chico’s, at least, there are still some disappointments. My local store won’t have the $199 bronze sequin cardigan from page 308 of Bazaar, or the “Starlight Pizazz bolero,” as Chico’s calls it, until October. But it does have a jungle’s worth of reptile prints, even on jeans. Eek.

“Shopping is officially back,” Bazaar Editor in Chief Glenda Bailey writes in her forward. “There is something for every taste, price and age.” That’s for sure.

Bazaar has stories about the return of the pantsuit and the phenomenon of designers spinning off their own lower-priced collections, including Alexander Wang’s T line of cotton basics, and Ferragamo’s My Ferragamo line of shoes priced from $275 to $350. (Designers are reaching down, mall retailers are reaching up. It’s all about staying in business.)

Elle magazine puts actress Julia Roberts, 42, front and center, shoots her at a Hindu temple in Malibu and dresses her in haute hippie wear.

If that’s not exactly a populist statement, Editor in Chief Robbie Myers’ letter is. In it, she writes about her magazine’s warts-and-all persona on reality TV. (Elle has had more TV exposure than any other glossy, placing editors as judges on “Project Runway” and “Stylista,” and opening up the whole office to scrutiny on MTV’s “The City.”)

The move to TV was “initially seen as a risk to the sanctity and mystery fashion creates around itself,” Myers writes, explaining that she took the plunge because the programs feature “pierced, tattooed, not always beautiful, sometimes overweight or wrinkly, often openly gay — people with funny haircuts and complex souls.” In other words, people like us.

The shopping pages continue the something-for-everyone message, spotlighting a $199 Talbots cream wool jacket with brass buttons, and a $398 Ann Taylor camel coat. But my favorite piece is a cream cable knit L.L. Bean fisherman sweater for $119. Cozy-chic sweater trend: check.

Elle even has something for the young ‘uns — a fashion spread with reality show temptress Kim Kardashian and tween idol Justin Bieber frolicking in the waves. A fashion matchup made at the White House Correspondents Dinner and consummated in the Twitterverse. What could be more democratic than that?