Whilst looking through the Vogue archives at decades of the September issue for a post (The F Word), I came across a remarkable cover that stood apart from all the others. It was of an elegant woman-of-a-certain-age with (gasp!) grey hair.
Appearing on the coveted cover of the British edition in 1948, this glamorous image shot by Cecil Beaton was the introduction of Mrs. Exeter, a fictional character created by Vogue. She was described thus: Approaching 60, Mrs. Exeter does not look a day younger, a fact she accepts with perfect good humour and reasonableness.
Mrs. Exeter was not just a face, she was also a voice:
I, for example, forgive myself a 33-inch waist. I’ve made my peace with my upper arms and my disappearing eyebrows. I’ve forgiven the yellowing (mellowing? Thank you, dear) of my complexion… Fifty has its tricks, too, just as have 17, 30 and 40. Dressing well, looking well, at any age involves some playing up and some playing down.
Model Margot Smyly appeared on her second Vogue cover in 1950. Mrs. Exeter was the epitome of elegance.
Regular style articles focusing on Mrs. Exeter were a popular and influential feature in both Vogue magazine and Vogue Pattern Book providing guidance and inspiration for the fashion needs of older women.
Mrs. Exeter didn’t try to mask her age, quite the opposite, in fact. Her advanced years gave her a secure sense of poise, dignity, discretion, and wisdom. And for 20 years, until 1962, Mrs. Exeter taught women how to dress—for fashion, their figure, and occasion. Mrs. Exeter wasn’t angst-ridden about ageing, nor was she trying to look 10 years younger,
Without YouTube to entertain and distract, many women of the era were spending their spare time sewing. And it wasn’t just mending or sewing on a button. Home sewers were expected to be highly skilled in the craft as the Vogue Pattern Couturier line exemplified. Women who wanted the designer fashions of the runway made their own. Vogue created a special section in their pattern catalogue for older women called Vogue Special Design.
Those Mrs. Exeter recommended were a particularly suitable choice for someone of Mrs Exeter’s age group. These beautiful and classic designs had, as Mrs. Exeter extolled, an air of graceful sophistication, and were kind to slender and not-so-slender figures.
Along with her savvy style advice for the season, Mrs. Exeter was not without wit: While I’m not given to doing the Mexican hat dance, my definition of an evening dress is not black Mother Hubbard with my pearls.
I’m so glad I discovered Mrs. Exeter.
I think she should make a comeback.
We’ve Forgotten How to Dress Like Adults