Thursday, October 1, 2015
Dusting off "Rags", the Magazine
"Cheap Chic", a guide to alternative fashion, has just been reprinted and reissued in a 40th anniversary edition. When first published in 1975 (later updated in 1978), "Cheap Chic" expanded on what hippie street-style had become— mainstream for the fashion-conscious young woman. In its review of the reprint, The New York Times mentioned how "Cheap Chic" was written by one of the editors (Carol Troy) of a short-lived (1970-71), counter-culture fashion magazine called "Rags".
Fashion and counter-culture may seem opposite endeavors, but clothes are always a defining feature of who-you-are and what-you-are-trying-to-say. "Rags" was aimed at a New York or California gal, working but probably not "working for the man". These were the baby boomers, to be part of which I was born a little early. Though clearly working in the establishment myself, at "Glamour" magazine, I bought "Rags" to see what that noisy group was up to.
I didn't love "Rags" and don't remember reading any cover-to-cover. Nevertheless, I still have seven issues, from October 1970 to June 1971. Amazing that I held onto them while losing my good Tiffany earrings and unwittingly throwing out my wedding dress.
Clever name, that. "Rags" was printed on newsprint. Newspapers have long been nicknamed "rags". The "rag trade" is still shorthand for the Seventh Avenue garment industry. In the history of monikers, they picked a good one.
Inside "Rags" was everything from the expected reports on street style to articles ("A special RAGS report") on "Fashion Fascism: The Politics of Midi", an interview with Marshall McLuhan on "Mini Skirt Tribalism", five pages on "Pity the Poor Working Girl— a report on office dress codes", "How Ricky Escaped from the GTOs" (a group founded by Frank Zappa), an early piece by Jon Carroll (presently a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle) on how he looks like an unmade bed, a photo story with captions about waitresses at two west coast restaurants, how to sew a boho top, a page on camping gear, a spread on deciphering man-made textile fibers, a New York stylist revealing trade secrets and ten pages of shopping finds surrounded by ads like any other magazine back-of-book at the time.
And the ads! Ads for long-gone and/or legendary places like Granny Takes a Trip, Abracadabra, I. Goldberg, Max's Kansas City, Betsey Johnson's Alley Cat and a full-page ad for the new album by Blood, Sweat and Tears.
That's just the October 1970 issue!
I realize now what a serious and thoughtful endeavor this was, laced with rebellion and a hint of sarcasm. There was some fine researching and writing, though not a lot of color. By the time "Cheap Chic" was published I too was wearing thigh-high boots, head wraps and French workingmen's smocks. Purposefully out of sync, straddling commerce and commune, "Rags" couldn't last and didn't. But this pile of newsprint is really the bedrock of fashion-think that continues to influence today.
PS I've been the guardian lo these many years, but it's time to let this baby go. If you've an interest in my collection of "Rags", please get in touch and we'll talk.