At the turn of the twenty-first century, teenagers could choose from a multitude of magazines that covered the latest teen fashions, music, sports, movies, and advice. Teens, especially teenage girls, were a well-established, lucrative magazine audience–creating and consuming teen-focused products. But this was not always the case. While magazines for children began in the nineteenth century, the first publications to speak to teenagers did not emerge until the twentieth century.
American Girl and Everygirls, the official magazines of the Girl Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls, respectively, first addressed girls directly in the 1920s. These magazines, however, only reached organization members. In the late 1920s, Ladies' Home Journal introduced "The Sub-Deb, a Page for Girls" with beauty and domestic advice. By 1931, the tone was distinctly "young" and by 1938, teen slang appeared.
Teenage interest in a 1941 Parents Magazine column on high school fashion trends, called "Tricks for Teens," inspired Calling All Girls, the first general teenage magazine. It offered comics, stories, and advice, but attracted preteen readers rather than the fashion-conscious high school girls of growing interest to advertisers.
Seventeen magazine debuted in September 1944 with broader teen appeal. Circulation exceeded one million copies by February 1947 and two and a half million by July 1949. Despite the predominantly white, middle-class audience, Seventeen reached many more teens than Calling All Girls orsub-deb columns. Seventeen offered a similar recipe of young fashions, beauty, entertainment, and advice, but girls appreciated efforts to make them better teenagers rather than kids or adults, including articles on World War II and the importance of voting.
Boys were also active magazine readers. Editors claimed that boys read girls' magazines and requested advice on fads. Most teenage boys, however, primarily read general interest magazines such as Life, and mechanical or sports magazines. By the 1950s, a growing number of boys read automobile magazines such as Hot Rod. No such magazine, however, enjoyed Seventeen 's enormous success with teenage readers andadvertisers.
In the 1950s, gossip magazines, such as Teen Parade and Hep Cats, sought working-class readers while Seventeen emphasized fashion, dating, and early marriage. In the 1960s and 1970s, teen magazines reflected some feminist ideas, but these mostly faded in the 1980s. Newcomers like Sassy gained readers in the 1980s, with explicit articles on sex.
Teenage magazines emerged as teens began to rely on commercial popular culture for guidance and entertainment shifted again as teens turned to peers rather than adults. The proliferation of zines, noncommercial girls' magazines, and virtual magazines in the 1990s ensured that many voices speak to and for teenage girls. In addition to commercial teen websites, websites created by girls offered articles, fashion advice, and discussion forums and relied on reader input. As with magazines, sites for teenage boys remained subject specific rather than "teen" centered.
See also: Adolescence and Youth; Advertising; Consumer Culture; Youth Culture.
Duncombe, Stephen. 1998. "Let's All Be Alienated Together: Zines and the Making of Underground Community." In Generations of Youth: Youth Cultures and History in Twentieth-Century America, ed. Joe Austin and Michael Nevin Willard. New York: New York University Press.
Palladino, Grace. 1996. Teenagers: An American History. New York: Basic Books.
Schrum, Kelly. 1998. "'Teena Means Business': Teenage Girls' Culture and Seventeen Magazine, 1944–1950." In Delinquents and Debutantes: Twentieth-Century American Girls' Cultures, ed. Sherrie A. Inness. New York: New York University Press.
Schrum, Kelly. 2004. Some Wore Bobby Sox: The Emergence of Teenage Girls' Culture, 1920–1945. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.