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!