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The Delicate Balance

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The long-anticipated September issues of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar this year contained much of what style-conscious readers have come to expect from these famous fashion magazines-makeup secrets, wardrobe musts and models dressed in flowing ensembles from Europe's fashion capitals. But a closer look between the glossy pages revealed that something else was going on. Features sought to reassure cash-strapped shoppers that they could update their fall wardrobes without breaking the bank. Vogue published a report on how designers were "trying to keep quality high and costs low." Both titles promised "stylish steals" on their covers.

What were these budget-friendly features doing in pages that usually praise couture gowns, Vuitton bags and $2,000 Lavin skirts? They're a sign of the times. Desperate to woo recession-spooked shoppers clutching their wallets tightly, every facet of the fashion business-from designers to retailers -- is doing what it must to stay relevant.

Make that magazines too, as the contents of the make-or-break September issues so visibly indicate. Traditionally, September is the issue that fires the starting gun for big-ticket fall and winter shopping sprees. This year, however, they're thick with bargain buys and advice on shopping one's closet.

Bazaar and Vogue were hardly the only ones. Lucky offered a chance to win shopping discounts worth $425,000. Elle, owned by Hachette Filipacchi Media, included a section on so-called investment pieces-items with hefty price tags ($395 leather shorts by Cynthia Steffe, for example) but ones that last long enough to make them good values. "We were very conscious of price on every page," says Robbie Myers, Elle's vp, editor of brand content, who also has run pieces on recession-induced "survivor guilt" and how to keep your job. "We would be stupid to sit here and say, 'Things are fine, girls.'"

In her editor's letter for the September issue, Harper's Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey acknowledges the changed attitude toward shopping. The issue pays homage to the times with a feature on picks for under $500. "It's all about good value for the price," Bailey said in an interview.

And at Glamour, coverage of money/life issues has been "radically" increased. For its September issue, editor Cindi Leive included her first-ever feature on finances in addition to an extra-big freebies section. "Our readers have always been interested in reading about things at different price points," Leive says. "But I think right now in particular everyone wants to find a great deal."

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