Seventeen Magazine: February 1993
If you follow fashion magazines at all, you know that the September issues are the best of the year. I fell in love with Seventeen during the summer of 1993, in between blaring the “Reality Bites” soundtrack and working at the local arcade. I couldn’t find that particular back-to-school issue for purposes of this trip down memory lane, but I did find the next best thing, which is the issue featuring Andrew Shue on the cover, because what girl who lived through the nineties didn’t have a crush on that do-gooder?
The thing about Seventeen is that it was so clearly talking to a different audience than Teen—older, cooler, more worldly. I distinctly felt like I had graduated from the bright neons of Teen to the plaid shirts, combat boots, mismatched florals of Seventeen; from a tinny tape deck blaring Whitney Houston to a skip-prone CD player blaring The Cranberries. Even the magazine’s fonts were different; more modern. Some of the clothes and accessories were attributed to what were surely expensive, hip stores in New York City, situated on Village corners that even now intimidate me (and I’ve lived here for years).
This particular issue celebrated Valentine’s Day with lots of romance tips and inspiring quotes from Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay. (I swooned at those now, but I’m sure they didn’t register with 14-year-old me.) Seventeen seemed to like its actresses; there was a profile of the three Wagner sisters (Katie, Courtney, and Natasha Gregson, the only one I knew), and there was a long interview with Wendy Benson, who starred in the short-lived drama “I’ll Fly Away” (I never saw it). In both pieces, the writers appeared so sure that these girls would be the Next Big Things that I felt mildly guilty for needing to IMDB each of them.
The Seventeen girl was more sophisticated than the Teen reader; that much is clear from this re-read. She understood things; she read between the lines. She didn’t have many more questions about her period, and she didn’t want Bonne Bell Lip Smackers. The Seventeen girl wore real lipstick, preferably something matte and purple-y to go with all those flannels. She wasn’t afraid to have streaked hair or smoky eyes—in fact, it was practically required. Your mother might not have liked the Seventeen girl, and of course, when you’re fourteen, that is part of the appeal.
Apart from fashion, makeup, and boys, Seventeen shared content about real issues. This issue in particular touched on abortion rights and hate crimes; Saddam Hussein had several mentions. And there was a blurb bemoaning the number of women in Congress (54 at the time). Unlike Teen, Seventeen wanted me to give a damn about the state of the world. It just wanted to make sure I was doing it in style.
That said, my memories of this issue were nowhere near as strong as my memories of Teen…and my level of enjoyment was less, too.
Now, listen. I have to bring up the elephant in the room now. And that elephant’s name is YM.
During my eBaying, vintage issues of YM kept popping up like a bad zit. (Or, more appropriate to my age, a stubborn gray hair.) The third magazine in the triumvirate of teen girl magazines (I’m purposely excluding Sassy, which ran for a mere fraction of time that Teen, Seventeen, and YM did, and anyway, Sassy was really in its own category), YM was like the quiet, slightly annoying neighbor that your mom always insisted you invite to your birthday parties just to be nice. It was always there, harmless and nondescript, and no one could quite remember why or how.
I had to be fair. I bought an issue.