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Rarely does an endeavour in the style sphere succeed at showcasing diversity – mainstream “plus-size” models usually have the measurements of an average woman and it took American Vogue 82 years to put a black woman on its cover. But Worn Fashion Journal, the independent Canadian fashion magazine known for its contemplative approach to beauty and clothes, nailed it like a do-it-yourself glitter manicure.
Serah-Marie McMahon was a 23-year-old fibre-art student at Concordia University when her ardour and distaste for the fashion world sparked a noble dream: a twice-annual style publication that eschewed what was en vogue. Two scheming years later, Worn launched in 2005 with a mission to “differentiate between personal style and the fashion industry, and recognize that the two don’t necessarily have to align.”
After a decade reporting on the aesthetics of wartime propaganda, the role of wigs in drag culture, the history of mannequins, the intersection of disability and fashion and much more, Worn is ceasing publication. Its next issue – available Nov. 22 – will be its last.
“I’ll be devastated when it’s done,” says McMahon. “But I just felt like it was time.”
McMahon says that Worn’s readership and revenue are at an all-time high, but that the demands of publishing a magazine so loyal to its own independence became too burdensome on the staff, all of whom work other jobs. Earlier this year, McMahon sat down with managing editor Gwen Stegelmann and publisher Haley Mlotek in Toronto, where Worn is based, to discuss the magazine’s future. “We looked at the numbers and we looked at the finances and we looked at our lives,” says McMahon. “You can’t do something like Worn a little bit. Everything revolves around it.”
They broke the news to contributors – nicknamed Wornettes – shortly thereafter. “People cried,” says McMahon.
One writer at that meeting was Toronto’s Anna Fitzpatrick, who began her career as an intern at the publication. “Worn was a catalyst for my adult creative life,” she says. “I was encouraged to be curious about everything … that was the ethos behind so much of what we published – dissecting everything for the potential stories within, embracing learning for the sake of creative expression and creative expression for the sake of learning.”
Worn’s admirers are not limited to those who kept it going, though love was certainly part of the labour. “Do not mistake its ‘DIY’ tone for an ‘indier than thou’ one,” wrote Rookie founder-cum-Broadway star Tavi Gevinson on her blog in 2010. “Worn is very sincere and very enjoyable.”
“I’ve actually been pretty jealous of Worn’s ability to live completely outside the confines of the daily grind,” says Randi Bergman, executive editor of FashionMagazine.com. “Worn provided much needed context for the fashion industry – like a superbly crafted middle finger to those who think fashion is just fluff.”
To anyone for whom style is something to contemplate and not just buy, Worn was a thoughtful inquisition – part frugal grandma telling you to save your money, part wild college roommate who’d wear fishnets to a wedding.
“It was me coming to terms with loving fashion but being turned off by the fashion industry,” says McMahon. “Instead of complaining about how shitty the industry was, we turned around and made something different.”