10/01/2012 02:38 pm ET

When We Were "Seventeen": A History in 47 Covers

By WWII, movie magazines were falling from style. To maintain readership, many publications turned from a tight focus on screen celebrities to address women's fashion more generally. It was around this time, for example, that Glamour of Hollywood dropped "of Hollywood" from its title. Keeping up with trends, publisher Walter Annenberg sought to revamp his movie magazine Stardom. The advice he kept gettig from friends: Talk to Helen Valentine, who, after starting out at Vogue, had gone on to Mademoiselle: The Magazine for Smart Young Women. So, in early 1944, Annenberg approached Valentine. They met, they talked, she came on board as editor-in-chief, and the first issue of Seventeen appeared in September that same year.

The magazine’s target audience was right in its title. Valentine once described the age of seventeen as "the age when a girl is no longer a child, yet isn't quite a woman." Teenagers are no longer a novel marketing demographic, but in 1944, the word "teen-aged" (then still a compound) was relatively new. The first mention in print, says the OED, crept up in Victoria, B.C. (the city, incidentally, where I spent my own teen years) with a 1921 local newspaper mention: All 'teen age' girls of the city are cordially invited to attend the mass meeting to be held this evening. And that's what Seventeen would also offer: a cordial invitation to teenage girls—to voice their ideas. So how has that invitation changed over the decades? Let's look!

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