Style Icon: Edna Woolman Chase

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Everyday at work, I delight in seeing emails from fellow Fashion Writer, Julie. Julie’s email signature is complete with her name, official job title, a link to ModCloth’s Twitter account, and a simple, six word quote from Edna Woolman Chase that brings me joy each and every time I read it.

“Fashion is general. Style is individual.”

After the jump, learn more about the woman whose career in journalism and individual sense of style changed the world of fashion today.

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Before Anna and Grace, there was Edna. Edna Woolman Chase, the iconic editor in chief of Vogue magazine for close to forty years (1914 – 1952), possessed an innate sense of impeccable style, which percolated onto Vogue‘s pages. Edna’s personal panache turned Vogue from a modest weekly fashion newspaper to the internationally respected glossy periodical that it is today.

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Edna’s rise to editor plays out a bit like a fairytale. Born and raised in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Edna Chase moved to New York City as a young woman hoping to get her big break. She found it, but in the unlikeliest of places – addressing envelopes in the circulation department of Vogue magazine. Her hardworking attitude and enthusiasm garnered the attention of Vogue‘s second editor in chief, who frequently asked for Edna’s opinion on layout design and content.

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In 1909, Conde Nast took over Vogue magazine. Shortly thereafter, Nast appointed Enda as managing editor. By 1914, Edna was named Vogue‘s editor in chief, the second female to acquire that position since the magazine’s inception in 1892.

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Under Enda’s reign, Vogue flourished from a surge in subscriptions, especially during the years of the Depression and World War II. American women took refuge from the harsh realities of their everyday life in the picturesque pages of Vogue, thanks to Edna’s creative vision. Edna’s understanding of the female form, combined with her unique sense of aesthetic presentation, allowed for Vogue to bloom as an inspiring monthly publication.

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Edna disliked open-toed shoes, and she preferred the styles of the Victorian era over any other. Her style was sophisticated, timeless, and attainable on a light budget, especially during the years of the Depression. Edna had a penchant for hues of blue, which dominated her wardrobe and complemented her kind brown eyes. She was a tastemaker, and as a respectable fashion professional who started out as a young Jewish girl from New Jersey, she took great pride in her own sense of style, and her ability to forecast likable fashion trends.

“The combination of fine taste and sound judgment is what counts, ” said Edna. “Taste may be a sort of instinct – good judgment is the flowering of sound thinking.”

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It only seems appropriate to end this post with another EWC quote, which challenges the dichotomy between fashion and style yet again. “Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess.” Well said, Edna, well said.


About Annie

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  1. Avatar
    CHICHI 02/18/2010 at 2:30 pm #

    Amazing article, even more amazing website!!!!Just discovered it.
    “fashionably tasteful.have a bite”

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    Maya 02/18/2010 at 4:46 pm #

    Ah see that’s my problem – Style!!

    Awesome article!

  3. Avatar
    Julie 02/18/2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Thanks for the shout out Annie! 🙂 I don’t think any other quote sums up my personal view on fashion better than hers. Short and sweet.

    And to imagine that she started at Vogue working addressing envelopes, her dedication is such an inspiration!

  4. Avatar
    dina 08/23/2010 at 3:05 am #

    very nice! except that according to Mrs. Chase in her autobiography “Always in Vogue” she claimed to be the daughter of Quakers. The first chapter is about her growing up as a Quaker.

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