While the history of Vanity Fair can be traced back through a series of titles to 1889, it is with the appearance of volume 1, number 1 of Dress and Vanity Fair in September 1913 that the magazine's unique identity began to emerge. The seeds sown in that September issue blossomed so fruitfully that four issues later, in January 1914, Dress was dropped from the title, which became simply Vanity Fair.
But from that first issue, heralded by its editors as the birth of "a new publication, with no preconceived notions and no prejudices," its guiding purpose was clear, if also ambivalent: to chronicle "the brighter side of life . . . the joy of living . . . and much, too, of its more serious aspects" (September 1913, p. 13). By celebrating "the wonder and variety of American life," its pages sought to present to readers "cheerfully, month by month, a record of current achievements in all the arts and a mirror of the progress and promise of American life" (September 1914, p. 15).
Under the editorial policies of Frank Crowninshield, who became editor in March 1914 and whose credentials included having served as publisher of the Bookman and art editor of the Century, the magazine's raison d'être occasionally took on the zealous overtones of a social missionary. Vanity Fair would counter the puritanical "tendency . . . of many parental warnings, admonitory sermons, and somewhat lugubrious editorials" to condemn the "increased devotion [in recent American life] to pleasure, to happiness, to dancing, to sport (in which we appear to have a laughable lead over the rest of the world), and to all forms of cheerfulness." Americans "as a nation, have come to realize the need for more cheerfulness, for hiding a solemn face, for a fair measure of pluck, and for great good humor." Vanity Fair would satiate that need by looking "at the highly-vitalized, electric, and diversified life of our day from the frankly cheerful