Editorial vs. Catalog

Ha, maybe I do want to write.

To my occasional embarrassment, sometimes I get in the habit of watching a lot of tv while knitting. Especially shows like What Not to Wear and America’s Next Top Model, which send Lucas running. One recent Saturday, I saw an episode of ANTM where Janice Dickenson (former model and full time crazy person) was teaching the girls the difference between posing for editorial and catalog photos, and it clicked with something I’ve noticed about how people respond to fashion content.

Editorial photos are what Vogue does with those multi-page articles showing Keira Knightly on the savanna. Catalog is more obvious; it’s what you see in department store ads and mail-order catalogs and anywhere a retailer is trying to convince you that you, too, could be that woman in the turtleneck and boot-cut jeans. Models pose differently for these two kinds of pictures (check this yourself: where are they looking? are they smiling? what about posture?) but the way the clothing is styled is different too.

A catalog image needs to convince you that you can wear something. The people will look happy. They’re probably standing straight and looking at the camera. The clothing will be styled to reflect the buyer’s (presumed) lifestyle, without a lot of elements you’d have to be highly exhibitionistic to pull off. But editorial photos are meant to do something else. They’re more conceptual, less practical. The focus is on inspiring the reader and evoking a mood. Runway shows will do this too. They’re trying to sell you on an idea.

But people outside the fashion industry aren’t necessarily tuned in to this distinction, and are often more focused on ‘can I wear that?’ than ‘ooh, I want to be a Baroque German Princess too!’. So you get complaints that the models in Vogue Knitting are wearing tutus with their sweaters, or there’s no camisole under the sheer blouse, or something else along those lines. Our habits for evaluating clothing are more practical, less imaginative, and we don’t automatically analyze ‘how could I make that work for me?’. I don’t think that’s bad, but it’s an interesting tension to observe. It probably has applications elsewhere, too. Are we selling an idea, a mood? Or an item to plug into someone’s existing needs and lifestyle?

As a footnote, this is what’s interesting about ‘shopping’ magazines like Lucky. Their aim is to take these concepts and break them down into things the reader can directly buy or do, bridging the gap. They identify trends and break out the components, and then show multiple versions so the reader can find one they like. If you’re interested in staying fashionable without spending a lot of time on it or hiring a stylist, this is perfect.

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