Mrs Exeter: One hell of a stylish lady

Today I am going to introduce you tone of my favourite fictional characters, Mrs Exeter. Anyone who has read Vogue magazines from the 50s may recognise this name, but who was Mrs Exeter and what did she do for fashion?
Mrs Exeter helped bring the older woman to the forefront of fashion in the 1950s. The character first appeared in 1949  ‘Approaching 60, Mrs. Exeter doesn’t look a day younger, a fact she accepts with perfect good-humour and reasonableness’ she confesses to a 33-inch
waist, disappearing eyebrows, and a yellowing complexion as well as her rheumatism!”
 Initially the character was an illustration by Audrey Lewis, it wasn’t until 1952 that photographs of the character actually appeared. The original Mrs Exeter was played by a Mrs Eastley who was a similar age to the character of Mrs Exeter. Mrs Eastley had lived a similar late Victorian upbringing as the character, where values such as poise and elegance were key and a woman was nothing without good posture. It is interesting also how slim the character was in the first photographic representations (33in waist, no way, more like 23in). It wasn’t until 1954 that the person most associated with Mrs Exeter, Margot Smyly, began to play her. Interestingly Margot Smyly was only in her thirties when she began to represent her. Vogue still suggested that Mrs Exeter was in her sixties, despite the younger model being used. If I were a model I don’t know how happy I would feel about representing a character 30 years older than myself!
The 1950s were one of the few periods in fashion when an older woman could look chic and at the height of fashion without looking overdone. The styles of the 1950s (full skirts, etc) could be quite forgiving for the older woman, and it was a period where many young girls were dressing almost to look like their mothers. This had a lot to do with Dior’s own ideal image of a woman: his mother. Mrs Exter came to be the epitome of this older yet still impeccably stylish woman.
As a character Mrs Exter helped to show that fashion was appropriate for all ages, and featured regularly in “Clothes with no age-tag” It is interesting that in these features it is often Mrs Exeter who looks more comfortable in the clothes rather than the younger woman.
Mrs Exeter continued to appear in Vogue until the 1960s. Towards the end veering from a lady in her 60s to one who was only at middle age. It was mostly due to the changing fashions and an increasing focusing on youth fashions the character ceased to appear.
I wish that this idea of the older model was still seen in magazines and the like (I am a big fan of Twiggy in the now finished M&S adverts as cheesy as they were). Most representations of the older woman in fashion seem to be done in a “look how novel and politically correct we are being” manner, which simply isn’t necessary. Mrs Exeter was a very popular character and demonstrates why the 50s were such a great period of fashion, clothes to suit any age group. I think she is a great person to look to when more mature ladies now are thinking about wearing vintage clothing, the 50s styles definitely look great on women of any age!

(Mrs Exeter looking particularly youthful!)
I only wish I had more pictures to show, I only have a few copies of 50s Vogue and she does not feature in any of them!

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3 thoughts on “Mrs Exeter: One hell of a stylish lady

  1. Any older models in magazines these days are either airbrushed and/or botoxed to within an inch of their lives, yet most of them are only 40+. An older woman is only featured if she looks young enough, and that can only be achieved with help.I shall have a look in some of my issues and see if I can find some more pics of Mrs Exeter, and whilst I'm at it, I'll look for Horrockses ads too!

  2. Thank you Liz for such very interesting and informative post. I've just looked through my March 1953 Vogue but sadly no sign of Mrs Exeter. Lots of nice adverts though. In fact 100 pages of them until the contents page, so not much different than today in being top heavy with them. I the models in ads and editorial all look quite 'old' by today's standards. But more to do with they way they were styled as you say. Everyone longed to look all grown up and sophisticated. Even the 'young' styles are shown on a model looking to be in her late 30s by today's standards. Same with celebs and film stars of the day. What a pity that we have now veered in totally the other direction with fashion being portrayed by and aimed at, the impossibly young and beautiful courtesy of almost deformed models and air-brushing. No wonder we all love to gawp at the paparazzi snaps showing celebs in real life in their off-guard moments. Once these same people would have looked as good off the page or screen as on it, just as would many ordinary housewives and office or factory workers when out in public. Such a loss of feminine dignity and self-confidence in 50 years.

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