From its Depression-era origins as a men's fashion magazine with high literary aspirations, through a brief period when it threatened to devolve into a semi-girlie pulp magazine, Esquire emerged by the 1960s as one of America's brashest and most sophisticated monthlies, with hard-hitting articles by the nation's leading writers and journalists on the hot-button cultural and political issues of the decade. At the same time, the periodical served as a Baedeker of sorts to a new generation of leisure-driven, style-conscious, sexually sophisticated men who were abandoning the austerity of the 1930s, the wartime privations of the 1940s, and the conformity of the 1950s for the more carefree, swinging lifestyle of the 1960s.
Esquire magazine was founded in 1933 by Arnold Gingrich and David Smart, who conceived of the publication as a magazine for the "new leisure," one that would be distributed largely through men's clothing stores, a plan that was quickly reversed when newsstands quickly and unexpectedly sold out their limited allotment of 5000 out of the 105,000 initial press run. From the beginning the magazine was known for its literary excellence—it published such authors as Erskine Caldwell, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett, and Ernest Hemingway—and for its lack of bigotry—it featured cartoons by E. Simms Campbell, the only black artist whose work appeared regularly in a mainstream national magazine, and fiction by Langston Hughes. Perhaps most notable, though, was the magazine's virtual reinvention of American masculinity. In place of the hard-working man of character who plodded through the pages of most American magazines, Esquire promoted men who were interested in leisure, were avid consumers, and had a keen interest in sex. Such representations of manhood were soon to become commonplace in American culture, but they first appeared regularly in Esquire.
Despite a cover price of fifty cents, double that of most magazines, circulation soared to 675,000 within a decade, emboldening its entrepreneurial founders to launch several other lifestyle magazines, including Coronet, Verve, and Ken. Another circulation-boosting factor was a series of controversial incidents in the early 1940s over the issue of censorship. Esquire first became the target of a boycott led by Roman Catholic leaders when Ken published some articles the church had found unpalatable. In another well-publicized case, Esquire's practice during World War II of printing double-page pinups as a morale-booster for its military readership prompted the U.S. Post Office to deny the publication its second-class mailing privileges, a decision that was eventually reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Arnold Gingrich withdrew from the publishing partnership soon after World War II, and Smart appointed Frederic A. Birmingham to assume the editorship. Under Birmingham's direction, the publication veered away from its original stylish and literary format in favor of more Western and detective stories, as in other popular pulp magazines of the time. "The design was garish, confused," wrote Carol Polsgrove in her 1995 book It Wasn't Pretty Folks, But Didn'tWe Have Fun: Esquire in the Sixties. "Circulation stayed high—around 800,000 in the early fifties—but blue-chip advertisers, wary of Esquire's naughty wartime reputation, stayed away," she wrote.
In 1950, Esquire moved from Chicago to New York, with Gingrich returning as publisher just a few months before Dave Smart's death. Gingrich took on the task of trying to restore polish to the magazine, which over the next few years was forced to weather challenges from television and from other upscale periodicals like Hugh Hefner's Playboy. With his first priority the reestablishment of Esquire's literary reputation, Gingrich asked authors like Paul Gallico, Aldous Huxley, and George Jean Nathan to come on board as regular contributors. By this time, L. Rust Hills had come on board as literary editor and took responsibility for organizing the magazine's annual literary symposia on college campuses. In 1956, Harold Hayes, who had worked for Picture Week and Pageant magazines, was hired by Gingrich, who wrote in his memoir, Nothing but People, "I took him in like the morning paper, knowing that in a Southern liberal who was also a Marine reserve officer I had an extremely rare bird." Gingrich began to withdraw in favor of a younger generation of editors. Ralph Ginzburg and Clay Felker became editors in 1957, and the young Robert Benton took over as art editor, solidifying a team that, despite an acrimonious working style and the sudden firing of Ginzburg soon afterwards, would remold the magazine to appeal to younger demographics and that would turn Esquire into the power magazine it would become in the 1960s.
By 1960, Esquire was already earning a reputation for publishing serious, even philosophical, articles that could appeal to a more educated audience, such as the correspondence between Elia Kazan and Archibald MacLeish during the production of MacLeish's drama, J.B. This editorial policy prompted Carol Polsgrove to declare that the Esquire editors were trying to "make thought entertaining. In an age where a whole generation of young men had gone to college on the GI Bill, why not put out a magazine for an audience that cared about rock and roll and the spiritual position of modern man, an audience that had heard of French playwrights and existentialists, an educated audience weary of television and eager to taste the delights of the mind, the cultivations of spirit and sense—and have fun doing it, too?"
Hayes was vowing to publish a magazine that would help America, particularly its men, resolve "a period of self-doubt and anxiety of great magnitude." His prescription was an Esquire with "humor, irreverence, fashion, fine writing, controversy, topicality and surprise." Diane Arbus was commissioned to do a photo spread of offbeat New York scenes and characters for a special July, 1960, issue on the city that included articles by James Baldwin, Gay Talese, and John Cheever. Among the many notable writers and journalists who would contribute to Hayes's mission over the next several years were Saul Bellow, Richard Rovere, Gloria Steinem, Malcolm Muggeridge, Dwight Macdonald, John Updike, Gore Vidal, and Norman Mailer. The latter had been assigned to cover the Democratic National Convention in 1960 that nominated the youthful John F. Kennedy for President, though Mailer vehemently quit the enterprise when he objected to Esquire's editors changing a word in his title from "Supermarket" to "Supermart." Mailer was persuaded to return to the fold, however, and he was signed up to write a monthly column beginning in 1962, which quickly attracted critical attention for its audacity and imagination; Mailer later wrote a report on the Republican convention of 1964 that had nominated Barry Goldwater for president. It was also in 1962 that Esquire began bestowing its annual Dubious Achievements Awards, a semi-humorous feature concocted largely by a new member of the editorial staff, David Newman. By this time, Hayes had assumed the role of editor-in-chief and brought in John Berendt as editor. It was also during the early 1960s that Esquire gained widespread reputation for publishing both serious and satirical articles on fashion, making the magazine the de facto arbiter of sartorial style for sophisticated and would-be sophisticated American men.
In the fall of 1963, when a fledgling writer named Tom Wolfe began to publish his onomatopoetic "new journalism" pieces in Esquire, the magazine's circulation had risen to 900,000 and it was being regarded as one of America's most influential publications. It devoted many pages over the next few years to some of the controversial social issues that were cleaving the American body politic, such as the militant black-power movement and the Vietnam war. Michael Herr went to Southeast Asia as a war correspondent for the magazine, and Tom Hedley contributed in-depth reports about unrest on American college campuses. Another young writer, Gary Wills, got his career underway under contract for Esquire, covering strife in the nation's black ghettos and the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Publication of contentious articles by the feuding William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal in the summer of 1969 led to libel suits that were eventually settled in Buckley's favor. The following year, the magazine published John Sack's interviews with Lt. William L. Calley, Jr. about atrocities allegedly committed by American soldiers in Mylai, Vietnam. About that time, Gordon Lish, the new fiction editor, helped establish the career of writer Raymond Carver by publishing his short stories in Esquire, often over the objections of Hayes.
During most of the 1960s, the provocative and offbeat covers by George Lois were credited with helping stimulate newsstand impulse sales and by 1972, the magazine's circulation had peaked at 1.25 million. Newsstand sales soon began to decline, however, perhaps in part because the issues that had fueled Esquire during the turbulent 1960s were running out of steam. Many of the prominent writers who had brought the periodical to the pinnacle of literary and journalistic prominence, like Wolfe, Talese, and Vidal, could no longer be relied upon as regular contributors, and Mailer had again become estranged. In the fall of 1972, with the retirement of Gingrich, Hayes became editor and assistant publisher and Don Erickson was appointed executive editor. Hayes left Esquire in April of 1973 due to "irreconcilable differences" with management. Soon afterwards, George Lois ended his connection with the publication. Within the next three years, the magazine suffered sharp declines in readership and advertising lineage. In 1977, Esquire was sold to Associated Newspapers, a British concern that had a partnership agreement with Clay Felker. In 1979, the magazine was sold to Sweden's Bonnier Newspaper Group and a firm owned by Phillip Moffitt and Christopher Whittle, with Moffitt becoming editor. In 1987, Esquire was purchased by the Hearst Corporation, which continues as its publisher. Data posted on the magazine's website in early 1999 claimed a circulation of 672,073, of which 588,007 were subscription and 84,066 newsstand. The median age of its reader, says Hearst, is 42.6 years. David Granger, editor-in-chief, was quoted as saying " Esquire is special because it's a magazine for men. Not a fashion magazine for men, not a health magazine for men, not a money magazine for men. It is not any of these things; it is all of them. It is, and has been for sixty-five years, a magazine about the interests, the curiosity, the passions, of men."
Breazeale, Kenon. "In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Vol. 20, No. 11, 1994, 1-22.
Gingrich, Arnold. Nothing but People. New York, Crown, 1971.
Kimball, Penn T. "The Non Editing of Esquire. " Columbia Journalism Review. Fall 1964, 32-34.
Lish, Gordon, editor. The Secret Life of Our Times: New Fiction from Esquire. New York, Doubleday, 1973.
Pendergast, Tom. "'Horatio Alger Doesn't Work Here Any More': Masculinity and American Magazines, 1919-1940." American Studies. Vol. 38, No. 1, Spring 1997, 55-80.
Polsgrove, Carol. It Wasn't Pretty Folks, But Didn't We Have Fun? Esquire in the Sixties. New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.
Tebbel, John. The American Magazine: A Compact History. New York, Hawthorn Books, 1969.
Esquire is a men's magazine founded in 1933 by David Smart and William Weintraub in an effort to create a profitable vehicle for advertising men's fashion. Esquire was originally known for combining vulgar and sexually-suggestive cartoons and paintings of semi-nude pin-up girls with high-quality literature, cutting-edge journalism, and advice on how to attain urban sophistication. The production of Esquire was a conscious effort on the parts of its publishers and editor to recreate the middle-class urban male as a consumer in need of fashion advice. Even in the midst of the Depression and with a rather high cover price, Esquire was immediately successful—both in the cultivation of its readership and in its ability to attract advertisers. The Esquire formula—with its combination of sophistication and raciness—is the progenitor of Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine, which is known for its literature and reporting as well as for its nude photographs.
Esquire's first editor, Arnold Gingrich, was primarily responsible for the magazine's original, profitable formula. In the affluence and commercialism of the 1920s, men were considered to be producers, while both consumption and fashion were the province of women. Gingrich's task at the new magazine, then, was to recast consumerism (as well as fashion-consciousness) as an appropriately masculine role. His method of doing so was to equate urban sophistication with success: Esquire provided a wealth of information about the "correct" behavior and tastes of a gentleman. These tastes—which included knowledge and appreciation of wine, liquor, fashionable dress, and fine dining—were legitimated as appropriately masculine by the rest of the magazine's content, which provided a survey of other interests appropriate to the gentleman—in particular bawdy jokes, the famous pin-ups of the Petty and Varga girls (painted by George Petty and Alberto Vargas), and writing by established authors, including Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who placed in Esquire work that other magazines deemed too risqué to publish.
After World War II, Esquire suffered a downturn in advertising revenue. The magazine had lost its gloss of sophistication, and its subscribers were older war veterans who remembered Esquire with nostalgia as the girlie magazine that had accompanied them to war rather than as a guide to urban success. In the mid-fifties, in an effort to reinvigorate the magazine and distinguish it from its nearest competitor, Playboy, Gingrich hired Harold Hayes to succeed him as editor. Under Hayes, Esquire helped popularize Tom Wolfe's New Journalism—factual stories constructed and told novelistically—and ushered in new era of reportage. Writers such as Norman Mailer, Jean Genet, and John Sack covered some of the major events of the 1960s for the magazine, and Esquire additionally boasted contributors like James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, and Gore Vidal.
Esquire's historical reputation as a cutting-edge periodical rests largely on these two periods—the 1930s–1940s and the 1960s—in which it routinely published smart, innovative writing and regularly printed pieces by some of the biggest names in American literature. In the late 1970s, after the retirement and death of Gingrich and the departure of Hayes, Esquire lost its way. The magazine changed owners a number of times and successive editors revamped its format. In 1986, Esquire was acquired by the Hearst Corporation, which began including heavy coverage of young celebrities, fashion, and fiction, but faced stiff competition from similarly-themed magazines GQ and Details. Since David Granger became editor-in-chief in 1997, Esquire has reasserted itself as a profitable, high-quality magazine and has won numerous awards for its features, fiction, and profiles.
Breazeale, Kenon. 2000. "In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer." In The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader, ed. Jennifer Scanlon. New York: New York University Press.
Merrill, Hugh. 1995. Esky: The Early Years at Esquire. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Polsgrove, Carol. 1995. It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, but Didn't We Have Fun?: Esquire in the Sixties. New York: Norton.
A monthly men's magazine founded in 1933 by Arnold Gingrich (1903–1976) and David Smart (1892–1952), Esquire was originally conceived as a fashion magazine and distributed through men's clothing stores. By the 1960s, it had evolved into one of the United States' most respected monthly magazines. It published hard-hitting articles and high-quality short stories by some of the nation's leading writers such as Tom Wolfe (1931–), Gore Vidal (1925–), William F. Buckley Jr. (1925–), and Garry Wills (1934–). Under fiction editor Gordon Lish (1934–), the magazine helped establish the careers of important short-story writers like Raymond Carver (1938–1988).
Appealing to an audience of sophisticated, style-conscious males, Esquire helped define patterns of thinking and standards of behavior for the post–World War II (1939-45) generation of well-off, educated men (and women). The magazine virtually reinvented notions of how American men should act by presenting as role models men who were interested in leisure, who were avid consumers, and who had a keen interest in sex. Such representations of manhood were soon to become commonplace in American culture, but they first appeared regularly in Esquire.
From its earliest days, Esquire published the work of serious American writers, including Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), John Dos Passos (1896–1970), F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), Dashiell Hammett (1894–1961), and Langston Hughes (1902–1967). It featured cartoons by E. Simms Campbell (1906–1971), the only black artist whose work appeared regularly in a mainstream national magazine. Immediately after World War II, the publication veered away from its stylish and literary format in favor of more Westerns (see entry under 1930s—Film and Theater in volume 2) and detective fiction (see entry under 1930s—Print Culture in volume 2), imitating other pulp magazines (see entry under 1930s—Print Culture in volume 3) of the period. In the 1950s, Esquire moved to New York and reestablished its sophisticated style under such editors as Ralph Ginzburg (1929–) and Clay Felker (1925–), who were credited with making Esquire one of the country's most respected magazines. The magazine published many in-depth articles on important social and cultural issues of the day, like the civil-rights movement (see entry under 1960s—The Way We Lived in volume 4) and the Vietnam War (1954–75).
By the 1970s, Esquire's circulation peaked at about 1.25 million but soon suffered sharp declines in readership and advertising. After several changes of ownership, Esquire was purchased in 1987 by the Hearst Corporation, its present owner, which publishes it under the slogan "Everything a Man Needs to Know." According to its editor-in-chief, David Granger, "Esquire is special because it's a magazine for men. Not a fashion magazine for men, not a health magazine for men, not a money magazine for men. It is not any of these things; it is all of them. It is, and has been for nearly seventy years, a magazine about the interests, the curiosity, the passions of men." Esquire claimed a circulation of 672,073 in 1999, about half of what it had been a quarter-century earlier.
For More Information
Esquire.http://www.esquire.com (accessed February 12, 2002).
Merrill, Hugh. Esky: The Early Years at Esquire. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995.
Pendergast, Tom. Creating the Modern Man: Masculinity and American Magazines, 1900–1950. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000.
Polsgrove, Carol. It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, But Didn't We Have Fun? Esquire in the Sixties. New York, W. W. Norton, 1995.
es·quire / ˈeskwīr; iˈskwī(ə)r/ • n. 1. (Esquire) (abbr.: Esq.) a title appended to a lawyer's surname. ∎ Brit. a polite title appended to a man's name when no other title is used, typically in the address of a letter or other documents: Robert A. Pearson Esquire. 2. hist. a young nobleman who, in training for knighthood, acted as an attendant to a knight. ∎ a landed proprietor or country squire.
An abbreviation for esquire, which is a title used by attorneys in the United States. The term esquire has a different meaning inenglish law. It is used to signify a title of dignity, which ranks above gentleman and directly below knight.