5 Magazine Covers with Hidden Messages

Much has been made of the art direction behind certain magazine covers lately.  It’s pretty brilliant, really, all the little choices artists make when they’re composing a shot — and how those choices add up to a message.

If you take a look at any of the big fashion glossies this month, you’ll see that same sort of subtle wizardry at work. In fact, there’s a lot of inspiration and instruction to be gained from these cover photos, if you just know what to look for. Here, give it a try:

1. We’ll start, as we always should, with Michelle Obama on the cover of Vogue.


Can’t you just envision this as a statue in a fancy yet tasteful museum? Speaking of marble carvings, notice the famously defined arms on display. She knows you envy them, but she’s not flaunting them by, say, juggling a couple of SUVs like apples. She’s just relaxing, like, “Oh hi, would you like to lie in the garden and chat for a while?” You know damn well that if she had to survive in the wilderness on her own because the rest of humanity let her down, she could sit right there in her queen-toga and mix up a different delicious salad out of those herbs and wildflowers every day.

More detail: Brows? Perfect. Nails? Flawless. Hair? Like the sail of the world’s most elegant ship, rippling in a gentle, dignity-scented breeze. Makeup? Note the use of sheer, natural lip-color, which implies that the First Lady will be having some coffee after this and doesn’t want to leave a mark on her cup but will indeed wear this immaculate draped gown while doing so, because living like a lady means pounding caffeine whilst remaining clean as a newborn snow cloud.

Message: The masthead is rendered in gold and the whole shot is bathed in natural light, because girl, when you live your best life, THE SUN AIN’T GOT NOTHIN’ ON YOU.

 * * *

2. Let’s move on to Vanity Fair, shall we?


There’s a lot to analyze here, but we’ll zoom in on the brows first. Note the bold, curved shapes, almost like a set of single quote-marks, inviting you to fill in the word between: ‘_____’ The cover would suggest that word is ‘Adele,’ but you and I both know it’s ‘insouciant.’ That’s right: big hair, don’t care. What doesn’t she care about? Anyone else’s opinion, if she doesn’t like it. She doesn’t have to care, because she’s a busy mom with a voice like an angel who’s been rolling up rose petals and smoking them. Oh, and what’s she doing with her hand behind her head? Getting ready to pull out a bobby-pin knife, that’s what, because what you didn’t realize until it dawned on you right now is that Adele is the designated assassin of the female race. We send her in when we need someone erased. So, all this? The eyeliner, the soft blush, the chin dimple, the peony-pink lips? It just might be the last vision you see before you’re saying hello from the other side.

More detail: Outfit? All black. Backdrop? An infinite tunnel of light. Masthead? Red, like the blood of her enemies, rollin’ in the deep.

Message: Dispense with the haters tidily and get back to what you excel at, womenfriends.

 * * *

3. Now onto Bazaar:


First thing you need to know here is that this cover is the flip-side of the Adele cover. See? The elbow on the cushion, the hand in the hair. That’s meant to indicate that smart girls are EVERYWHERE. Look this way, here we are. Look that way, WE’RE THERE TOO. That’s why the main headline says Celebrating Sisterhood. This whole earth is a big ladyparty, and everyone who doesn’t piss off Adele is invited.

What else is Keira saying? Well, this photo is really about what she’s not saying. Take a look at the pattern formed by the jeweled neckline of her dress. Look familiar? That’s right, it’s an asterisk, the symbol placed after a phrase to indicate that the phrase doesn’t mean exactly what it says. You know like:

(*some assembly required)

(*with purchase of $100)

Like a sparkly little spy, the asterisk always carries the real message, and the message here is:

(*pretty badass, that is)

 * * *

4. Let’s turn our attention to InStyle:


Reese Witherspoon’s wry half-smile says, “Let’s be friends. Or not. I honestly don’t care, so it’s your call.” But you’ll definitely want to make friends, because who doesn’t want a pal who can show you how to do a good red lip? It’s hard for blondes, y’all.

Anyway, take a close look at the jewelry. See the bracelet and ring both shaped like a wing? That’s because flying = freedom. And there’s nothing more beautiful than a human being who knows she’s free to do what she believes in. Feel like wearing a one-shouldered dress even though that’s half the number of shoulders a person actually has? DO IT. Make the choices that are right for you and you become an unstoppable high-speed joy train. That’s the idea here, and I hope you’re picking it up, because this brilliant broad has a business or five to run, and she doesn’t have time to tell you twice, bless your heart.

Message: Get to the point and get on with being awesome. 

 * * *

5. And here we have ELLE:


Here’s Hollywood’s newest up-and-comer, Haley Bennett, fresh off the cinematic adaptation of The Girl on the Train. She may be just starting out, but this babystar already knows a thing or two about shaking things up. To wit: She’s got a Brigitte Bardot classic bombshell thing happening, but the fishnet half-glove and exposed lingerie brings to mind Madonna’s 1980s lace-punk vibe, too. What decade even is this? Doesn’t matter, because the past isn’t the point of your future, missy. Also: there’s a bejeweled cat crouched on her lap, but that’s no meek house pussy. It’s a fierce tiger whose eyes are saying, I’LL THANK YOU TO GET OUT OF MY WAY, SIR.

Backdrop: A taupe wool rug, because so what if you’re wearing a peach nightgown and a ribbon choker to have people over? You like all kinds of nice things. Go ahead and mix your tasteful textiles with your sultry slip-dress.

Message: Rules and restrictions? Hard pass, Bob. When you’re the art director of your own life, none of it has to match.

 * * *

In the end, if these images have one message in common, it’s this — and I don’t know about you, but I totally agree with it:

Move over, 2016. You’re blocking my light.


  1. I agree with rossmurray1: brilliant. Also very funny. Beyond which I can’t comment intelligently, because I don’t follow fashion mags, though after reading this post I just might start paying more attention 🙂

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