Old magazines about a baby boomer’s old life

Sometimes baby boomers conjure up memories in their minds. But sometimes, at least in the case of Erin O’Brien of Warwick, Rhode Island, they turn to those old magazines they never threw away.

When I finished Marie Kondo’s books about decluttering one’s life, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, not only was I inspired, but determined to ‘Kon Mari’ my way through my belongings. ‘Kon Mari,’ as you already might have figured out, is a play on the author’s name. The plan was to hold each item in my hand, ask myself if it brought me joy, if not, thank it for its service and let it go.

Erin O’Brien at home in Rhode Island.

This was fine in theory, but I didn’t get very far. When I started with my library, because Kondo suggests beginning with books, I paused momentarily to leaf through my first copy of Seventeen (December 1976), bought while waiting for the inaugural issue of my subscription to arrive. As the background details in the cover photo emerged, I remembered imagining the Christmas party the model was attending and wondering how one was invited to such an event. (How was this memory bringing me joy? That’s a different issue!) Still, I kept the magazine.

Inside the glossy pages of the next one I opened were models dressed like Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks with flowing hair like Farrah Fawcett’s. I had imagined a velour cowl neck, Dittos bell bottoms, striped toe socks and platform shoes when I wasn’t in my school uniform. As a teenager I bought shampoo so someone would say, “Gee, your hair smells terrific” and cologne that was “sensual, but not too far from innocence.” As I leafed through the pages, there were even more products promising to make any teenage girl pretty, popular, and confident. I remember waiting for that thick “back-to-school” issue to arrive in the mailbox with even more advice on problems with parents, pimples, and popularity.

The articles about movie stars and rock stars were always intriguing. The pages of one issue in particular struck me. A full-page spread highlighted young Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson accompanied by several teen models on date night. One cover was a portrait of Bill Cosby with his teen-aged daughter. Who could have imagined how their life stories would continue in the news?

Seventeen had been around for a long time before my paid subscription began. Its first issue appeared in 1944, as a new idea targeting an unaddressed demographic: teenage girls, too young for their mothers’ magazines. Editor Helen Valentine wrote in her first letter to readers, “In a world that is changing as quickly and profoundly as ours is, we hope to provide a clearing house for your ideas.”

The editor of 1944 would never know that a teen-aged girl of the 1970s would keep her old Seventeen magazines as windows into those in-between years, recalling rites of passage like first dates and high school proms, a driver’s license and high school graduation, to savor once again.


  1. Oh, I so enjoyed reading your article and looking through the photos from Seventeen Magazine. I can remember wearing a granny style dress for my prom in 1972. The clothing was looser and more modest in those days…..I kind of wish it was like that again.

  2. That was a great article. I love old magazines, and a few years ago bought 30 1970’s Vogue magazines at auction for only $10. They bring back all the old memories and fads of yesterday.

  3. Your essay grabbed me and flung me into the past! I’m also a teen of the 70’s, and I worshiped at the same altar of teen magazines. They showed me how the other half lived, and guided me (good and bad!) through naive and innocent times. I’m glad you didn’t toss those old treasures!

  4. Such a great story! I would read and re-read those magazines over and over!! It’s awesome you kept them Erin!!
    By the way, love the new picture of you in RI…. ❤️

  5. Seventeen magazine is where I learned about bulimia. I know it was intended to warn readers of a dangerous disorder, but for me it was “What a great idea!” It took 18 years before I was finally abstinent. I loved your memories and photos, Erin (I agree with the other Cathy – great photo of you as well). I vividly remember the Columbia House slew of albums. It was like Christmas when my batch came in the mail!

  6. Wow Erin, I can’t believe you held onto your Seventeen magazines all these years. Thanks for the trip to the past.

  7. Great article. But now that it’s been a while since you moved.. do you miss west coast life.. or, are you lovin’ Rhode Island more?

    1. I made it to the six month mark on my new coast, and the transplant has been successful (…with the exception of leaving the poinsettias on my front porch in the winter!)

  8. Erin – good memories! How about “I know my hairs would rather have organic lather…” P.s. how do you never age? 😉

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