She was never touted as a devil in designer duds, and her controversial ideas seem less Sex and the City than Bad Girls Club when reflected upon in 2012. Helen Gurley Brown, however, will always remain at the top of our list of ladies we loved (and loved to disagree with) in the world of women and words. The former Cosmopolitan editor passed Monday, August 13th, in Manhattan, at the age of 90.
Born in Arkansas, Brown later studied for a short time at TWU (then Texas State College for Women). Her early career comprised jobs as a secretary and advertising copywriter, and notably, much skirt chasing by her many pre-Mad Men era bosses. She wed her longtime husband David Brown, a Hollywood producer, in 1959. The two remained together for over 40 years, until his death in 2010.
It was Mr. Brown who urged his young wife to write her groundbreaking tome Sex and the Single Girl, in 1962. As the title hints, it advocated pleasure-seeking freedom in the realm of dating and sex, at a time when husband hunting and hair tips were thought to be the only topics of interest for young, single women.
Brown took the helm at Cosmopolitan magazine in 1965, eventually transforming the bland women’s magazine with flagging readership into a splashy bible for modern single girls.
We remember Brown’s Cosmo from our earliest days staring at the checkout line magazine racks, and we remember it well. Unlike Vogue or Seventeen, there was little fashion-forward and nothing innocent about that glossy’s cover images. Within, articles were splashed with titillating sound bites, and the models bared breasts and legs with wild abandon. As soon as we were able to hop on our ten speeds and peruse the newsstands for ourselves, it was Cosmo that pulled us in with the promise of an adult life filled with sexy adventures.
Brown’s final issue as editor of Cosmopolitan bowed in February 1997, though not before her relevance began to flag in the face of inflammatory comments on AIDS and sexual harassment in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. She continued to write, and continued on as an editor at Cosmo thereafter.
Today, we reflect on this passing of a publishing grand dame with sadness, and redoubled resolve to speak our minds and seek out fresh ideas in the world of fashion and style. Visit the New York Times to read Helen Gurley Brown’s full obituary.
(Lead image via FoxCrawl.com; Inset image via Stylecaster.com)