Who is Mrs. Exeter?

And the more important question is – Can she sew?  Yes, she can – and she does!  But first, let me tell you who she is – or actually who she was.  She was a fictional character – a “woman of a certain age” – who started appearing in The Conde Nast Publications’ Vogue magazine in 1949 (as best as I can determine).  She was the focus of a regular style column, which was meant to appeal to older fashionable women –  with the emphasis most definitely  on fashionable.   She must have proved to be an appealing figure to readers, because in 1954, the front cover of the October/November issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine announced:  Introducing Mrs. Exeter patterns.

Top billing for the new feature!

Suddenly Mrs. Exeter had discovered the joy of sewing beautiful, classic fashions for herself.  Obviously, Vogue patterns, which already had its own Couturier line of patterns, and its very popular Designer pattern series, knew that its audience included these “older” women who had the time, the talent, and the inclination to sew beautiful fashionable clothes for themselves. The copy accompanying the sketches and photos clearly played into the idea that Mrs. Exeter was very sure of her fashion sense:

Here we learn about Mrs. Exeter’s “experienced way of knowing the ‘right’ neither-too-young, nor too old fashions for herself…”

She also had color sense, knowing how to play up her features, and showing she was not afraid to branch out from neutrals and basic black.

Yes, red can definitely enhance silver hair!

She sounds like she was a fun grandmother, too, as this sketch attests:

The caption reads: “Mrs. Exeter takes her grandchildren to town for a Saturday movie treat.”

The Mrs. Exeter feature appeared sporadically  throughout the year in the issues of Vogue Pattern Book magazine,  continuing through the decade of the 1950s.  The October/November 1957 issue had this feature:

The reader was instructed to “sew jet buttons on the short, fitted jacket and flap pockets” of the gray suit on the right.

That same issue used a real model for the Mrs. Exeter section:

It seems Mrs. Exeter favored white gloves and classic handbags.

And another real model appeared in the February/March 1958 issue:

I think this Mrs. Exeter looks a bit insipid!

By the fall of 1958, Mrs. Exeter must have been very popular, as this was the cover of the magazine:

10 pages for Mrs. Exeter patterns!

The Mrs. Exeter appearing here suddenly looked a little less grandmotherly:

Now this is a lovely woman!

Again, the accompanying text was very flattering to the expertise of the older woman:

“Mrs. Exeter knows what she likes… how to look right on all occasions.”

And the texts made frequent reference to Mrs. Exeter’s civic and social obligations and interests. One two-page spread showing suits, declared:  “For Mrs. Exeter’s busy calendar of civic and social events, a suit wardrobe is almost a necessity.  Her choices, admirably combining chic, distinction, and flattery – with perhaps a shade more emphasis on flattery.”

She also apparently wore shirtwaist dresses with great aplomb, being careful “to avoid thickness at the waist.”

“For all day, every day, the shirtwaist dress is indispensable…” which could be true for 2012 as well!

The Mrs. Exeter feature continued into the early 1960s, but then succumbed to the burgeoning emphasis on youth, disappearing from the magazine by the mid-‘60s.  Indeed, in 1970, Vogue Pattern Book magazine introduced a new feature, this one called “Miss Vogue” in an obvious appeal to the younger generation.  The description of Miss Vogue?  Well, she must have been raised  by Mrs. Exeter:

“She’s the girl with the fabulously fresh smile.  She loves life.  She has fun.  She is active and her versatility knows no bounds.  …She is a sewing expert…  She loves a good challenge.  She’s got talent.  She’s got finesse…  She’s a winner!”

Although Mrs. Exeter might have been “replaced” by Miss Vogue, there were still plenty of 1970s’-era fashions and patterns, which certainly appealed to “the older woman” as well as a stylish younger one.  One of those patterns is the one I am currently using :

From Vogue’s Designer series, ca 1970.

I have completed the skirt, which incidentally is, to my thinking the perfect “pencil” skirt – as it is narrow, but very comfortable – and it has a shaped, two-part waistband. (I’m an unabashed fan of waistbands!)  I think Mrs. Exeter would approve.  I’ll show you in a future post…

5 Comments

Filed under The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

5 responses to “Who is Mrs. Exeter?

  1. Oh, I love the 1950’s magazine art! Thanks for sharing and I look forward to seeing your suit!

  2. Carol

    Thank you for your excellent, thought-provoking article. My train of thought somehow led me to Mollie Parnis, an American designer who would have been about Mrs. Exeter’s age (mid 50’s in the mid 50’s?) and designed for her age group. Fashionable, flattering designs that could “last for more than one season”. (Melinda L.Watt wrote a nice biography of Mollie Parnis at fashionencyclopedia.com)

  3. Glad you enjoyed it! That was truly the “age of elegance” for the older woman!

  4. Brigitte

    Ah…Mrs. Exeter.
    No rules only self-awareness, originality, classy, and style.
    Knowing…
    Thank you for your lovely post of things discarded.

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