We’re ringing in fashion’s New Year — the ninth month of the year, not the first — with a history of the most famous issue of them all.

Football players have the Super Bowl, athletes the Olympics, and Hollywood the Oscars. Fashion, however, has a month of fall fashion shows, and with them, the September issue — the industry’s holy chronicle. 

Sometimes called the “fashion issue,” “icon issue’ or “style issue,”  the long-awaited and highly coveted September issue has historically been the one that sets the mood for the following seasons, cleans the previous year’s slate, and redefines what’s hot and not: maybe it’s the much-reviled return of the skinny-jean or the color gray as the most-talked-about neutral. Whatever it is, a trend’s relevance can be measured by the number of cameos it gets in print.

Welcome to the September Issue.

The issue’s fame is in part practical: The ninth month of the year is summer’s denouement; when the flings have run their course, beach shoes have lost their tread, and wearing white becomes increasingly impractical — a small act of rebellion, or worse, a fashion faux pas. As sunsets arrive earlier and temperatures plummet, breathable linens are traded for floor-length trenches, and closets are rearranged to accommodate the bulk of cool-weather layers. 


With this comes the market’s response: Fall/Winter collections are revealed, winter staples unboxed, and back-to-back Fashion Weeks explode across the globe; in New York, London, Paris, and Milan. During these thirty days, fashion’s crème de la crème perch on the edge of their seats, eyes peeled, phones ready, eagerly awaiting a first glimpse of what’s next. 

September issues are famously the largest issue a fashion magazine will produce each year, they garner the most advertisements, showcase the biggest cover stars, and are often accompanied by real-life parties, extravagant dinners, and lots of press. Vogue, whose September issue is easily the most recognized of all, broke its own record in 2012 with a 916-page issue weighing just shy of five pounds. The September issue produced by any fashion publication might be the only one whose theme is determined simply by its situation on the calendar: if it’s September, the theme of the issue is that: September. To know the history of its relevance is to understand the history of the fashion industry. 

Where it started: 1893 

It all started with Vogue’s 1893 September Reverie. The cover showed a black and white drawing of a be-gowned woman illustrated by Harry McVicker – a stark difference to the high-profile, large-scale production covers we know and love today and, from a contemporary perspective, a quiet start to the institution of the September issue.

The first New York Fashion Week: 1943

Then came the illustrious Fashion Week, first hosted in 1943 by Eleanor Lambert –– the Empress of Seventh Avenue, as The Museum at FIT dubbed her. During WWII, Paris and, consequently, the esteemed Parisian houses were shut off from the rest of the world, Lambert, Press Director of the New York Dress Institute, filled the void by hosting a press week showcasing U.S. designers, a move that put American fashion on the map.

Menswear Publications 

In 1957 Gentlemen’s Quarterly (aka GQ) landed on the scene with its first Fall Issue. Pictured on the debut cover was an impeccably well-dressed man in a pinstripe suit with a red tie – a poster child for the ’50s man. 

Condé Nast, Press

Anna Wintour’s first September issue for Vogue: 1989 

In 1988, Anna Wintour took the helm at the far-famed title Vogue. Wintour’s first September Issue was the following year, ’89, and featured none other than Naomi Campbell dressed in an iridescent burnt orange suit accessorized with an assortment of chunky pearls — Campell’s first solo cover for the magazine. Wintour would go on to become one of the most recognized names in fashion, in no small part because she championed so many who went on to become heavy hitters themselves— Christian Dior. Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs to name a few. She’s also credited with launching the careers of many of the supermodels that would come to dominate the scene for years. (Wintour’s clout, demeanor, and stature within the fashion world have been mythologized countless times, perhaps most famously in R.J. Cutler’s 2009 film The September Issue, which documented Wintour and Grace Coddington as the two worked together to carve out Vogue’s 2007 September Issue.)

Condé Nast, Press

The supermodel era: ~ 1990s

The supermodel was more than a mere model, whose symmetry was the backdrop to a designer’s vision. The supermodel was a recognizable name, a frequent face on talk shows and in commercials, and a brand unto herself. In the 1980s and ’90s, we were knee-deep in the Supermodel era, with iconic Supers such as Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and Christy Turlington gracing the covers of the best magazines in the biz – Campbell herself is featured on over 500 covers. Their fame commingled with the public’s awareness of the September Issue institution, bonding the two together and enhancing the reach of both. 

The celebrity: 2000s 

As we neared the close of the century everything changed. We said farewell to the supermodel and welcomed in an era of celebrity cover stars. Between 2005 and 2011, not a single model graced the September issue of Vogue U.S. Actress Renee Zellweger, wearing a ruby-red gown atop the September 1998 issue, was the first celebrity to appear on the cover of Vogue; they called it How Hollywood Conquered Fashion.

Ever since, celebrities have ruled the September Issue. Think Victoria Beckham, Rihanna, Jennifer Aniston, and Beyoncé, all figures of cultural significance and each with a reach that seeps into fashion and beyond, demonstrating how fashion itself has transcended its own genre.

Streetwear meets luxury: 2010s 

Then comes the 2010s, wherein a takeover by streetwear, social media stans, and “influencers”  altered the fashion landscape once again. Streetwear — heretofore defined as what a person wore outside the office and other single-function spaces — started to infiltrate the luxury fashion space. Initiated by Dapper Dan in the ‘80s and perfected by the late Virgil Abloh, the intrinsic link between the two genres is now undeniable. And the moment is perfectly encapsulated by Pharrell Williams, one of the godfathers of contemporary streetwear, and the newly appointed Men’s Creative Director of Louis Vuitton, who graced the cover of the Wall Street Journal Magazine’s September 2014 issue.

In PAPER Magazine’s September 2015 issue, LUXE IN FLUX, the title married the world of fashion and celebrity with a double-trouble cover featuring cultural heart-throb Jennifer Lopez and Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing. 

And this is about the same time that we saw the reconfiguring of Fashion Week’s front row. What was previously reserved for fashion editors, industry folk, and close friends of brands, is now set aside for the most-talked-about celebrities, viral influencers, and TikTokers.

As the dawn of the internet turned into internet-first culture, in the late 2000s, the sun began to set on print. Naturally, page counts got smaller, and the “thud” of the big issues quieter; people consumed media differently. Instead of turning to the beloved September Issue to educate ourselves on Fall trends, we turned to fashion shrines online. Blogs and digitized publications began to reign supreme, and thus, the institution of the September Issue changed inherently — losing some, but not all of its cultural significance. 

Gender-neutral and a new masculinity: 2015 ~

As we reached the twenty-teens, the line between womenswear and menswear started to skew, and with it, fashion’s conception of femininity and masculinity. For its Fall/Winter 2018 issue, The New Vanguard, VMAN featured three cover stars: Troy Sivan, Jaden Smith, and Lucas Hedges, all young talents pioneering a new brand of masculinity described as “more thoughtful, articulate, and sensitive than that of generations past.” 

The emergence of diversity, and greater representation of Black talent: 2020s

Historically, cover stars have been white men and women, as dominant Eurocentric beauty ideals encouraged the belief that diverse talent on covers wouldn’t sell magazines. However, in the last decade, there’s been a notable uptick in the diversity represented in fashion mags as a whole, including in the most coveted position as the September cover star. 

In fact, over the last ten years of September Issues from the top ten international fashion publications, people of color appeared in 26 percent of them, according to a survey conducted by the NY Times. In 2018, it was reported that 50% of the covers in this cohort had women of color on the cover, from Rihanna on British Vogue to Beyoncé on US Vogue; Tiffany Haddish on Glamour to Tracee Ellis Ross on Elle Canada. During 2020, as the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racism protests took over the globe, Zendaya graced the cover of InStyle’s September Issue. In the cover shot, the multi-hyphenate actress and model wore exclusively Black designers and was styled by pioneering Black stylist Law Roach.

Despite the print subscriber being rarer than ever, the September Issue and fashion media at large have largely been returned to the diehard fans of fashion. Throughout all of its permutations, the September Issue has always carried with it a defined history of what “fashion” is: a who’s who of the most influential brands, a valuable resource in pop culture 101, and a lingering reminder of the still-rigid beauty standards.


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