Teri Agins

Fashion Writer

Growing up in Kansas City, my sister and I were dreamers. We just knew we were going to live in New York, a metropolis that seemed so slick and sophisticated from what we had seen in the movies. We wanted to live that life.

We loved to watch all those Doris Day and Audrey Hepburn movies with costumes designed by Edith Head and Adrian. Our favorite pastime was playing with paper dolls, and ours were the best-dressed because of the fabulous outfits we designed for them to wear.

Our next door neighbor Bette Dooley was an assistant to the women’s buyer at a local dress shop. Mrs. Dooley loved fashion and had a subscription to Harper’s Bazaar and Glamour. I subscribed to Vogue and we would swap. I used to tear out the pages and tape them on my wall: all those arresting, high-fashion photos of Twiggy and Marisa Berenson by Irving Penn; a four-page spread in Vogue of Marsha Hunt, nude, wearing an Afro. I took that wall to my dorm room at Wellesley and everyone would say, "It looks like a fashion studio in here!"

None of the other female reporters were clamoring for what appeared to be a women’s reporting job that seemed like career suicide.

After taking summer reporting internships while at Wellesley, I decided I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I wanted to be a features writer, but not writing about fashion, which I didn’t consider to be real journalism. Back then, fashion was relegated to the women’s pages, which meant writing about socialites and promoting the latest styles carried in the stores. It was a total advertising play, but that changed over time.

Around 1989, Norman Pearlstine, the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, asked me to start covering fashion as an official business beat at the paper. I had spent my first five years there covering airlines and the courthouse, but I clearly had an affinity for fashion. I was known around the office as a fashionista, wearing my leather pants, fur coats, sunglasses, the whole thing. I enthusiastically said yes. None of the other female reporters were clamoring for what appeared to be a womens reporting job that seemed like career suicide. I viewed it as a real opportunity.

Before then, general interest publications like the Journal rarely weighed in on fashion topics, only doing so when there were big cultural trends to report on, like women wearing pants to work. But the 1970s designer boom and global licensing turned fashion into big business, which the Journal was ready to cover in a serious way.

Business reporters are grounded by the mantra "follow the money." I had to propose not just stories that women would want to read, but pithy articles that reflected the interest of investors. Companies like Liz Claiborne, The Limited, and Gap—as well as fashion houses like Gucci in Europe—had become publicly traded companies, with sales in the billions. As a reporter, I had an edge because I was already a sophisticated fashion consumer. I dug my heels in and got to know the key executives in the industry, which is how I developed the fashion industry beat at the Wall Street Journal.

After 25 years, I retired in 2009 and became a freelance writer. Anna Wintour invited me to propose stories for Vogue. Among the stories I wrote was an article about what it meant for me to see Marsha Hunt in Vogue in 1968, in those nude shots wearing an Afro. They included it in the book Nostalgia in Vogue. I was really excited because my fashion writing career had come full circle.

—As told to Chavie Lieber

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