Call this the Year of the Dimple. After at least half a decade in which sullen, brooding models dominated fashion advertising - a period when smiles all but disappeared from some designers' ads - a new, sunny-side-up mood suddenly prevails.
On page after page of magazines this month, all-American models are flashing their pearly whites and showing off deep dimples. Gone are the glowering, anorexic-looking waifs with raccoon circles under their eyes long favored by Calvin Klein. In their place are well-scrubbed, healthy preppies who not only smile but - gasp! - even laugh.
Not since yellow smiley faces became an icon of the 1970s have so many happy faces dotted the American landscape. From design houses such as Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Perry Ellis, and Calvin Klein to stores as diverse as Brooks Brothers, Banana Republic, the Gap, Ann Taylor, and J.G. Hook, fashion photographers are instructing models to say "cheese." Even Jockey underwear features groups of fresh-faced young people - non-models all - clad in skivvies and broad smiles.
Time was when a smile was a normal, unremarkable thing, requisite for any advertiser wanting to attract customers and sell products. Then, in a display of reverse chic, designers and editors quietly decreed that the true mark of sophistication was to look serious, perhaps even angry. Their unofficial rule of thumb seemed to be: The more expensive the clothes, the more stone-faced the model. American Gothic meets Madison Avenue.
Today fashion designers aren't the only ones reversing their advertising strategies. Kellogg Co. has revamped its ads for Special K. Instead of using size-4 models to suggest that women should reshape their figures, the company is using the theme "Reshape your attitude." Pointing out that "men don't obsess" about their bodies, the new ads ask women, "So why do we?" Kellogg changed its approach after learning that pictures of unrealistically thin bodies in ads presented negative images for women.
Manufacturers of beauty products are also experiencing a backlash against what one advertising executive calls "perfect models with perfect hair." Some advertisers are replacing supermodels with more realistic, girl-next-door looks.
Progress remains overdue on other fashion fronts. Emma Balfour, a successful runway model for designers ranging from Calvin Klein to Versace, candidly announced to millions of television viewers in Britain last month that she is tired of the drug abuse and eating disorders that remain open secrets in the fashion world. Ms. Balfour wants the fashion industry to acknowledge these problems and address them.
Designers and advertisers can hardly shoulder all the blame for society's ills. Still, reality-checks like these could signal the beginning of a refreshing new realism in the fashion and beauty industries if advertisers continue to portray more honest, upbeat images of women and men. Warren Motts, past president of the Professional Photographers of America and himself a commercial advertising photographer, is watching changes in fashion ads approvingly. "Photographs should make people feel good, especially if someone is trying to sell something," Mr. Motts says. As he travels around the country giving professional seminars, he adds, "I charge photographers to remember that when they press that shutter, they're recording something that's going to last forever. I tell them, 'You'd better take an image that's going to leave something good in the world.' "
As if to encourage a new, more positive national mood for the millennium, even fortune-cookie writers are getting into the act. One Chinese-restaurant patron received this message last week: "Smile whenever you feel like it. You will enlighten everyone around you."