The Driver's Seat

Vogue gets behind the wheel: Learn about the evolution of fashion and car designs

Eras can be charted both by fashion and car designs and Vogue charted the evolution of both, although its main focus was on the clothes and the women who wore them. The cars mostly served as their accessories. 

Model Leaning on a Car, Vogue (1942-08-15) by John RawlingsCondé Nast Archive

Between the 1940s and the 1970s, cars became faster and more aerodynamic and the Vogue mannequins became more empowered and provocative. The dolled-up lady shown standing beside a stately sedan in 1945 was most likely on her way to lunch.

Model in John Frederics, Vogue (1945-09-15) by Constantin JoffeCondé Nast Archive

By 1976 she had been replaced by a sexy boss heading off to work behind the wheel of a sporty coupe. Here, a roadmap to the changing relationship of automobiles and fashion plates in the magazine.

Model in Carolyn Modes, Vogue (1946-02-01) by Serge BalkinCondé Nast Archive

The 1940s

The Second World War curtailed the fashion industry in many different ways. Some couture houses were shut during the occupation, clothing restrictions were put in place, and many Vogue staffers were involved in the war efforts. 

Primrose Gaynor in her Lincoln Continental, Vogue (1949-10-15) by Herbert MatterCondé Nast Archive

Edna Woolman Chase, Vogue’s editor-in-chief

believed in the need to maintain a sense of elegance and commitment to the magazine’s purpose even in the face of the horrors of war. So photographs continued to be taken on models who remained elegant while projecting a "we will get through" this sense of strength and purpose.

Mrs. Edwin A. Fish with her Chrysler, Vogue (1949-10-15) by Herbert MatterCondé Nast Archive

During this time the magazine’s photographers, particularly

Serge Balkin and Constantin Joffe (after being released from a German stalag and emigrating to the United States) took an understated approach to capturing the latest trends in fashion that also suited the soft lines and muted paint jobs automotive designers favored.

Barbara Mullen in Adele Simpson Dress, Vogue (1952-11-01) by John RawlingsCondé Nast Archive

Model in Vogue Pattern, Vogue (1956-08-15) by Paul HimmelCondé Nast Archive

The 1950s

Post-war prosperity booming, the fashion industry expanded alongside that of the automotive sector. Subtlety was pushed aside in favor of a "if you have it, show it" attitude.

Models in Mink Coats with Cadillacs, Vogue (1957-11-15) by John RawlingsCondé Nast Archive

The required nightly blackouts of the previous decade were replaced with bright lights in the big cities and fashion models oozed luxury in their furs and jewels. Bold and beautiful were adjectives that could be applied to fashion and car design. 

1957 Chevrolet 210 Tailfin, Vogue (1956-12-01) by Clifford CoffinCondé Nast Archive

The big U.S. automakers rolled out cars in every color with tail fins that stretched a mile long. There was a resemblance too between women’s girdle-contained silhouettes and the curves of some autos. 

Model in a Tweed Suit with a Chrysler Limousine, Vogue (1958-02-01) by John RawlingsCondé Nast Archive

Prolific cover photographer John Rawlings was often assigned to shoot mannequins with their rides (and occasionally a chauffeur) and he made it his specialty to find just the right car to go along with the look of the moment.

Anna Carin Bjork in Evan-Picone, Vogue (1958-10-15) by John RawlingsCondé Nast Archive

His images would evoke all the glamour and possibility that the decade, dominated by the conservative values of the Eisenhower administration, was known for.

Model in Betty Carol Dress with Avanti Car, Vogue (1962-11-15) by Gene LaurentsCondé Nast Archive

The 1960s

Culture went through a seismic shift during the decade that Diana Vreeland, Vogue’s editor-in-chief, termed the “Youthquake.” Over the course of the 60s, stiff dresses and important jewels were put away in favor of miniskirts, flowers in the hair, and possibly a Volkswagen bus.

Brigitte Bauer in Ellen Brooke, Vogue (1964-05-01) by Gene LaurentsCondé Nast Archive

The automakers got the drift: Tail fins were tossed aside in favor of sportier designs. Ford introduced the Mustang, the perfect sports car for a generation of young Americans who wanted to get where they were going fast.

Veruschka Wearing Valentino in Rome, Vogue (1969-04-01) by Franco RubartelliCondé Nast Archive

In Rome, photographer Franco Rubartelli, a mainstain in Vogue’s pages then, photographed his muse, iconic 60’s model Veruschka in a Valentino patterned silk jumpsuit “accessorized” with super-slick yellow Iso Grifo sports car in the background.

Penelope Tree in a Bright Crocheted Dress, Vogue, John Cowan, 1969-11-01, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
Hubert de Givenchy with his Car, Vogue, John Cowan, 1969-11-15, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
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Model in a Bill Blass Dress, Vogue (1972-07-01) by Kourken PakchanianCondé Nast Archive

The 1970s

The 1960s were followed by a darker and more complicated time. Hippies disappeared along with the booming economy to be replaced by a drug-fueled disco craze that, momentarily, helped people deal with the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

Models with a Ford Pinto, Vogue (1976-02-01) by Bob RichardsonCondé Nast Archive

Grace Mirabella, Vogue’s new editor-in-chief, focused the magazine on real clothes for real women, believing that the magazine needed to turn away from fantasy and get down to business to survive.

Easy Clothes, Easy Cars, Vogue (1976-02-01) by Bob RichardsonCondé Nast Archive

American automakers were feeling the pinch, too, as they lost market share to European and Japanese brands that were expanding stateside as well as the Opec oil crisis which drove up gas prices and made the large US gas-guzzlers seem obsolete.

Suddenly, it was just as common to see a BMW or Mercedes on the road as it was to find the latest Ford Thunderbird. 

Lisa Taylor in a Calvin Klein Ensemble, Vogue (1976-10-01) by Arthur ElgortCondé Nast Archive

One of the most famous photographs in Vogue was by the legendary fashion photographer Arthur Elgort, who captured model Lisa Taylor, her hair flying, as she zoomed through Palm Beach in a Mercedes coupe. 

Considered revolutionary at the time, Taylor was clearly in the driver’s seat--in all senses--and had her pedal to the metal as she headed not into the sunset, but into the future.

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