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A Political Economy (Over)Analysis of Stylist Magazine

Stylist is a free women’s lifestyle magazine that hits newsstands just in time for you to pick your Woman Crush Wednesday from its newsprint pages – but you had better get out there quick because Stylist takes no time to disappear from local kiosks. In fact, according to Editor-in-Chief, Lisa Smosarski “the biggest complaint we get is that ‘we can’t get hold of Stylist'”. But not all hope is lost if you’re prone to a late morning. Thankfully, Stylist is also available to buy online – via subscriptions or one-off orders – but truth be told, it’s never any fun spending money when you know you could have gotten it for free. So, for most dedicated readers, making that extra effort for the cheap and cheerful, or conceding that you’ve unfortunately missed out for the week, are the only two viable options.

But if Stylist is free and most of their readership don’t bother subscribing, how on Earth do they make money? Well, the answer is incredibly hard to miss once you’ve successfully tackled all the other ladies on your commute to pick up the last copy.

Stylist Advertorial for Mango (Source: Campaign)

Advert for Converse x JW Anderson in Stylist Magazine (Source: IMM Models)

The answer is Advertising. Supplemented by paid partnerships (as well as a much smaller percentage from events), tons and tons of ads, in the form of native advertisements or traditional product broadcasts, rest comfortably within Stylist’s pages – as instrumental to the magazine’s form as the original content itself. Even beyond the adverts or the not-so-subtle plugs that furnish Stylist’s pro-tips on haircare, the magazine’s original content itself reflects the economic engine that drives it.

Pandering to the heteronormative, white, middle-class tastes of the predominantly multinational brands that buy ads, Stylist is an incredibly placid lifestyle brand, void of politically charged sentiments and lacking in any noticeable passion for social issues, with a slight (and only slight) exception for feminism – which stands at the forefront of their tagline: “Feminism, Fashion, Beauty, Lifestyle Trends & News”.

Take, for example, Stylist’s exclusive interview with the bolshy Jess Philips. After a recap of Philips’ then recent snub at Boris Johnson, journalist Anna Fielding sets the tone of the article with the opener “her hair is newly bobbed and shining”. Though the piece does well to detail Philips’ disdain for the PM, her experiences as an M.P. and her fiery new book, 7 Ways To Call Time On B.S, this brief interjection from the very serious topic of British Politics reminds us not to expect a piece that delves solely into Philips’ political alignments – that is just not Stylist’s style. In fact, the Q&A, which makes up the bulk of the article, is a healthy(?) mix of political and personal questions, where Philips’ thoughts on the rise of right-wing populism and her ideal Brexit outcome are mingled in with what she and her friends chat about over tea.

Stylist Cover of Jess Philips (Source: Mark Harrison Photography)

After all, Stylist is primarily funded by external brands, so the Stylist brand itself must be as palatable to as many readers as possible in order for it to be an attractive investment for advertisers. Before investing in ad space or pursuing paid partnerships, companies must ensure a wide, engaged and compatible audience. Given that heavily politicised content is the quickest way to alienate readers (if their ideologies oppose, or even simply differ to what’s being printed) it is in Stylist’s best interest to remain apolitical and unbiased.

So, in the end, Stylist remains a women’s lifestyle magazine, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing revolutionary. Since a revolution is far from what the capitalist engines that power the magazine are looking for, to maintain economic viability Stylist’s content silently proclaims: “A revolution we shan’t get!”

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