Everyone Is Buying Mirrors Right Now

2020 was the year our appearances mattered the least. There were no parties to go to, no fancy dinners, no 500-person weddings. Yet, ironically, wall mirror interest skyrocketed. CB2 reported that mirrors were their most-searched home product, with over 4 million inquiries. 1stDibs saw a double digit increase in mirror searches overall, and a triple digit increase for one in particular: the “Ultrafragola” designed by Ettore Sottsass for Poltronova. (Celebrity owners include Lena Dunham and Bella Hadid.) Meanwhile, New York Design Center says they, too, have “seen an uptick in mirror sales” at their brick-and-mortar outpost, The Gallery at 200 Lex.

The question is, why? Are we masochists who like to gaze upon our unkempt, sweatpant-clad reflection? Are we so vain that we needed “selfie mirrors” to keep our Instagram content flowing? Turns out, we were buying mirrors not because we wanted to look at something—we bought them because we wanted to look away.

For so many of us, life was once spent in several other locations besides our residences: the office, the car, a neighborhood restaurant, a family or friend’s place. But the pandemic shut everything down, rendering us homebound. Suddenly, we were, quite literally and constantly, staring at our walls for months on end. And their blankness began to bug us.

So how to fill them? Art, sure—but art can be intimidating to pick out, and expensive. Mirrors, however, are a simple yet effective way to fill the void. “Mirrors are an accessible and foolproof way to fill in wall space without having to put too much creative energy behind it,” CB2’s product development lead, Andrea Erman, tells Vogue.

Accordingly, it’s not the plain-framed, rectangular wall mirrors that are trending. Rather, it’s more decorative ones that double as aesthetic accents. “They’re statement pieces,” Erman explains. Emily B. Collins, the director of New York Design Center’s The Gallery at 200 Lex, agrees: “Most people that shop The Gallery at 200 Lex aren’t necessarily looking for round mirror to check their reflection or do their makeup in, but to instead act as an alternative to art.”

It’s an interesting return to the mirror’s historical purpose—to reflect the sun, rather than human faces. “Many of the mirrors we sell, from carved 18th century rococo examples to Francois Lembo’s mid-century modern mirrors with rich enamel and hammer decoration, were designed primarily to reflect light,” says Collins. “So as consumers and designers alike have focused more on the appearance of home in the past year, we’ve seen an uptick in mirror sales that reflect the trend antique mirrors were originally designed for—to brighten a space.”

But how do you pick a mirror that meets your room’s needs? Justina Blakeney, lifestyle expert and founder of Jungalow, says that first, you need to figure out its intended functionality. Room feeling too boxy or square? “A floor-length mirror with an arched top can add architectural interest to your space, as it may feel like you’ve added an arched doorway to the room.”

For the cramped apartment dwellers, here’s what she recommends: “If you’re using a mirror to make a space brighter, hang it opposite a window. If you’re using a mirror to make a room feel larger, think about a large-scale mirror that echoes the shape of the room, hang it at eye-level and watch as your room seems to double in size.”

And then there’s the problem that plagues so many of us—the too-blank wall: “If your room is lacking in personality and needs a little somethin’ something’, an ornate or highly decorative mirror can add a lot of flair without making your space feel busy,” she says.

Below, shop a curated selection of our 15 rectangle mirror.

Designed Specifically for Women

The Daily Mirror stands alone as the only major national daily newspaper in Britain ever to be designed specifically for women. Launched in that format, in November 1903, it was a resounding failure, and dissuaded others from similar experiments. Even if its experiment as a ‘high class’ journal for ‘ladies’ only lasted a few weeks from its launch,  it retained a distinctly ‘feminine’ identity for many years, and it continued to attract a much higher percentage of female readers than any other paper until well into the 1930s. It finally shook off this reputation with its tabloid relaunch in the mid-1930s, but high-profile female columnists, such as Dorothy Dix, Marje Proops, Felicity Green, Anne Robinson and Miriam Stoppard have remained a key part of the paper’s appeal to its audience right up to the present day.

Targeting a New Audience

The serious morning newspapers of the Victorian era, such as The Times, had tended to assume that their readership was male, and focused almost entirely on a public sphere dominated by men. The new popular daily papers launched at the turn of the twentieth century, on the other hand, actively sought to maximise their audience, and this meant reaching out in an obvious way to women as well as men. Female readers did not just boost the overall circulation statistics, they also had a special economic importance to the newspaper business. Women were – or were perceived to be – the major spenders of the domestic budget, and hence they became the prime targets for advertisers looking to sell their products. As newspapers came to rely ever more heavily on the revenue from branded advertising, attracting female readers became a financial necessity. In a society in which men and women were still heavily segregated in both work and leisure, editors and journalists were confident that appealing to women meant providing a different sort of content from that aimed at men – the sort of content, in fact, that had fuelled the success of the burgeoning women’s magazine sector throughout the nineteenth century. From the first issue of the Mail, in May 1896, the paper’s owner, newspaper magnate Alfred Harmsworth, asked Mary Howarth, previously a weekly magazine editor, to oversee regular women’s columns providing material on fashion, housewifery and motherhood. Comparisons between the sexes also became a staple of the feature pages, and women – at that time campaigning for the vote and other rights – became more visible in the news columns too. Much, though by no means all, of this content, was ultimately based on conservative gender stereotypes.

The Daily Mail’s success in reaching out to this relatively untapped female market encouraged Harmsworth to think that there was room for a whole newspaper dedicated to women. Accordingly, he launched the Daily Mirror in November 1903 with an all-female staff under the editorship of Mary Howarth. The Mirror’s first issue declared that the paper would not be ‘a mere bulletin of fashion, but a reflection of women’s interests, women’s thought, women’s work’, covering ‘the daily news of the world’ and ‘literature and art’ as well as the ‘sane and healthy occupations of domestic life’.1 Gendering sections within a newspaper was one thing: gendering the whole paper was another. The mainstream market was not yet ready for a women’s daily newspaper, at least not in this form. The Mirror struggled to find a consistent tone and identity, and seemed caught between being a magazine and a newspaper. As its circulation plummeted, the oval mirror was rescued only when Harmsworth removed the female staff, handed over the editorship to the experienced journalist Hamilton Fyfe, and turned it into an illustrated paper – as which it was a major success, becoming the first daily to rival the readership levels of the Mail. The illustrated Mirror was keen to display the female body: the front page of the first relaunched issue was dominated by a sketch of the Parisian actress Madeleine Carlier, who, tantalisingly, had just won a court case after breaching her contract by refusing to wear an ‘immodest dress’.2 In 1908, the paper claimed that 15,000 women had submitted pictures for its competition to find ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’; each received a certificate of merit.3  

The Mirror experiment encapsulated the different aspects of Harmsworth’s attitudes to women. His faith in the potential of the women’s market led him to take extraordinary risks: he lost around £100,000 supporting the failing Mirror in its early months. At a time when women had barely gained a foothold in the world of journalism, he demonstrated his willingness to place a great deal of responsibility onto an inexperienced female editorial team, while simply by launching a ‘women’s newspaper’ he continued to challenge assumptions about gender and popular publishing. Nor did the failure of the Mirror seem to alter his perceptions about the female audience. ‘While we learnt there was no room in London for a women’s daily paper,’ recalled Kennedy Jones, Harmsworth’s right-hand-man, ‘we also discovered there was room in a daily paper for more letter press that directly appealed to women.’4 Tom Clarke, another experienced colleague, noted that the setback to the Mirror did not undermine Harmsworth’s ‘faith that the future for popular newspapers and magazines depended on a big woman readership’.5  

Gender Stereotypes

On the other hand, Harmsworth shared many of the conventional gender prejudices and stereotypes of his time. He continued to view women as being largely defined by their roles as wives and mothers, and the ‘women’s material’ for his papers was produced on these terms. When he told staff to find ‘feminine matter’, he assumed that his meaning was self-evident: he wanted domestic articles, fashion tips, and recipes. His forward-thinking with regard to the female market was tempered by what the new Mirror editor Hamilton Fyfe described as ‘an old-fashioned doubt’ as to whether women were ‘really the equals of men’.6 Until the First World War, Harmsworth was sceptical about the need for female suffrage. ‘Sorry to see the outburst of Suffragette pictures again’ he complained to Alexander Kenealy, the editor of the Mirror, in 1912. ‘I thought you had finished with them. Except in an extreme case, print no more of them.’7 It was only when women demonstrated their ability to serve the nation during the war that he changed his mind and became a proponent of women’s suffrage.  Women were also thought to be particularly interested in gossip and celebrity news, and Harmsworth was convinced that most were fundamentally aspirational: ‘Nine women out of ten would rather read about an evening dress costing a great deal of money – the sort of dress they will never in their lives have a chance of wearing – than about a simple frock such as they could afford’.8 Editors and journalists firmly believed that women were particularly keen on the vicarious enjoyment that could be obtained by reading about wealthy lifestyles and luxurious goods, and the steady rise of celebrity culture across the century was partly driven by the desire to cater for the female audience.

These traditional gender stereotypes were even more evident under the proprietorship of Alfred Harmsworth’s brother Harold, Lord Rothermere, between 1914 and 1936. Although the Mirror enthusiastically accepted the enfranchisement of (most) women over 30 in 1918, ten years later Rothermere became preoccupied that the proposed equalisation of the franchise at age 21 would lead to lots of young women voting for the Labour Party, considerably weakening the forces of conservatism. ‘Stop The Flapper Votes Folly - This is Not The Time For Rash Constitutional Innovations’ declared the paper in April 1927, and, like Rothermere’s other paper, the Mail, resisted the proposal until it sailed through the House of Commons the following year.9  Rothermere also became sympathetic to the hyper-masculine fascist dictators, Mussolini and Hitler, and in 1934 swung the arched mirror (and the Mail) behind Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. For all the press attention on the achievements and freedoms of the ‘modern young women’ of the 1920s and 1930s, underlying attitudes to gender remained resilient.
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