Fashion magazines show readers the goods and attitudes that are most desirable now, and in the immediate future. A person can interpret information coded in articles, advertisements, and fashion stories many ways-- she may react to it viscerally and emotionally, associate the information with thoughts and memories she already has, and develop ideas that make what she sees and reads personally significant.
For instance-- when I look at this picture, the arrangement of line, and the contrasting black, white, and deep aqua colors strike my fancy and hold my attention. I associate the model's black lipstick and spiky hair with punk rock and personal independence; but I also think of energy and order because the outfit the model wears, and the space she inhabits play off each other in a carefully proportioned arrangement of simple elements.
                    photo by Stephen Meisel
                    Vogue March 2001 p.491

When I read the picture's caption, "First Impressions- In days of old, when prints were bold..." I think that bold prints are a throwback to the '80's, and that boldly printed garments will be noticed as soon as they are seen. So I infer that if I wear boldly printed clothes that refer to a time when punk was influential in popular culture, I will be fashionable.

The individual interpretations above are examples of possible ways a person can interpret a fashion picture and its caption -- another person might interpret these components of a magazine page very differently than I did. Yet even though individual readers may interpret the parts of the page differently, the information represented by the page (and by duplicate pages in other magazine copies) can still inform all readers about what is fashionable.

When a person interprets a fashion picture and its caption, new significant information is created. Assume that the meaning of a magazine page incorporates particular significant interpretations of that page into a generalized significance such as "this (the information presented by this page) is fashionable this season", and that this general significance is meaning shared by and accessible to every interpreter. In these circumstances, if an individual's interpretation of a selection of information does not conform or contribute to the general significance of that information, then the interpretation is not meaningful.

Publishers of American fashion magazines distribute copies of the same information about what's fashionable to millions of people every month. The contents of fashion magazines have an interesting relationship to meaning because their time in circulation is short-- one month they are new, the next month they are replaced by new pictures and captions in a format that evolves slowly over time. Because they are replaced so often and pass out of public consciousness so quickly, it seems likely that the meaning of information in a fashion magazine changes both qualitatively and quantitatively over time. However, over that same period of time, the significance of that information may change very little for an individual interpreter.

I'll consider how any page clipped from a fashion story communicates information to an individual reader, and what develops as a result of this communication. I'll discuss the different kinds of interpretations yielded by each source of information that comprises the page-- picture and caption. Then I will speculate about how the relationship between the information interpreted from the picture and its caption changes when they communicate as one interactive medium.

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