Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mrs. Exeter Is a Friend of Mine

Meet Mrs. Exeter. She's not a real person, but I think you'll like her all the same.

Allow me to explain. I'm lucky enough to have in my possession the Vogue Pattern catalog from April 1957, on loan to me from a very generous co-worker. There are lots of pretty dresses in this catalog, as I'm sure you can imagine. Isn't it funny, though, how pretty can become a little tedious after a while? I went in search of more unusual treasures, like very strange maternity pants and swimming bloomers paired with conical straw hats (more on these wonders to come). But the real goldmine was a section with a tab that reads, "Mrs. Exeter: Sizes to 42 - 44 - 46."

I was intrigued, to say the least. I wondered if this was Vogue's version of Simplicity's Slenderette patterns, which I investigated here and here. Well, a little web searching revealed something more fascinating altogether.

Apparently, Mrs. Exeter was a fictional character introduced by Vogue magazine in the late 1940's meant to represent women "of a certain age."

Mrs. Exeter introduced herself to Vogue readers by proclaiming:
"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."
Isn't she quite sassy?

The Mrs. Exeter section in the 1957 Vogue Pattern catalog has a larger size range than the misses' section, and the designs were chosen to be flattering for the Mrs. Exeter type. It also has style advice for the season. For spring 1957, Mrs. Exeter's fabric choice was linen tweed. As for color, she fancied "arbour red," which is described as "purply-pink shades . . . sweetbrier rose and rich fruity mulberry." (Mmm!)

At the bottom of the following catalog page, you'll see the tagline, "Easy Slimness . . . Perfect for Mrs. Exeter."

I know I've only just met Mrs. Exeter, but for some reason, I've rather come to like her. At least, I rather like the version of her in my head - where she does not resemble any of these tiny-waisted models in the slightest. (She's more of a Mrs. Doubtfire character in my mind.)

I'm a big fan of the writer Anne Lamott, and as I was reading this article on Mrs. Exeter, I came to think of Lamott's essay entitled "The Aunties" from the book Traveling Mercies. Here's a sample:
I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly wherever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarrassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way.
Now, mind you, I'm not comparing Mrs. Exeter to the aunties, because Mrs. Exeter is very dignified. But Mrs. Exeter has a very real acceptance of herself, one that I would like to carry with me everywhere, just like Anne Lamott carries her aunties.

To Mrs. Exeter!


  1. What a shame we never knew her - I think I would have liked Margaret a lot. Older women are kind of invisible now in fashionland, don't you think? Except for the Vogue Woman Patterns.

  2. Mrs. Exeter sounds like a bit of a firecracker. How refreshing! And how sensible of her to like such lovely things as linen tweed. It seems like there's so much polyester and shoulder pad ick running around for older ladies (or younger ones too--that's why I started sewing my own clothes--I do not want to wear polyester knowingly).

  3. As someone who can see 50 looming on the horizon, Mrs. Exeter sounds like my kinda gal. I want to dress well without dressing "too young." It's been a challenging transition! I refuse to age un-gracefully, and appreciate fashion advice from someone who ALSO has a 33" waist! Hurrah for Mrs. Exeter!

  4. The older I get - heh, I'm 25, but anyways - the more I realize that to fully embrace being yourself may mean choosing a more difficult path, or attracting unwanted attention, but as with Anne Lamont's aunts and Mrs. Exeter, it's so much more worthwhile in the end. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I have always been intrigued by the "Mrs. Exeter" line of patterns too; although these are far more lovely than any I've seen in various spots 'round the web! I just love the concept of really sharp fashions for "women of a certain age" (keeping all these ideas in mind for when I reach that age! ;). And the color descriptions--too fun!

    "Mrs. Exeter has a very real acceptance of herself, one that I would like to carry with me everywhere" Couldn't have said it better! ;)

  6. What a gem of a book! I would love to read it from cover to cover. They need to make sewing patterns fun again! I love patterns for an age group. I went online to find a dress pattern for my Mom who is turning the young age of 70 and she is so intimidated by the younger models. I keep telling her to just look at the line drawings. Thanks Little Hunting Creek-- I didn't check out Vogue Woman Patterns.

  7. Isn't it interesting how all of that has been removed from current patterns. It is sort-of like patterns have been dumb-downed all the way around. The instruction pages used to contain helpful information and tips for construction, the patterns were more size specific, etc.

  8. I love how Mrs E. had no "self-hatred" about the changes in her appearance as she aged. Although I think we all strive to have such a positive outlook, we inevitably fall short at times, and get down on ourselves for things we cannot control... but we can add a little glam and sass in our every day life just like Mrs. E!

  9. Mrs. Exeter could certainly be a friend of mine. Love the wit and the style. Hmmm..., Wishing I had copies the Mrs. Exeter Vogue collection.

  10. My grandmother WAS Mrs. Exeter! She was a large lady--tall, big boned, a bit overweight, but in proportion, with a defined waist. She was a seamstress, and she dressed impecably from hat to shoes! She never, as far as I know, lamented about her size. And--she was wonderful!

  11. Thanks for explaining, Gertie! I have some Vogue Knitting magazines from the 50's and they have Mrs. Exeter patterns . . . I always wondered who she was!

  12. I love Mrs. Exeter, thanks for sharing!

  13. It's so weird that as the boomer generation are now in their 60's, and they are a formidable consumer group, that they are so ignored in the fashion glossies. When I was in fashion school, we had a guest designer come to speak to us who was in her early fifties and having got sick of the horrid nasty stuff the market deemed appropriate for her age group and size, started her own line. She said she couldn't understand why when she reached a certain age, everyone stopped giving her options for shopping- at a time in her life when she finally had a fair bit of disposable income to fling around! She told us that young upstart designers should give the oversaturated skinny-young-thing market a miss and design for her and her friends who were crying out to drop cash on stuff that wasn't poly-blend slobwear. Before she started her own label she was saying she had to get her shop-on in homewares stores only.

    The article you linked to Gertie says that the use of Mrs Exeter faded as the cultural attention shifted to the 60's youthquakers- which is what today's boomers were! Maybe it will be Mrs Exeter's time to come back soon. Home sewers may have to lead the charge though. Mass manufacturers just don't seem to get it.

  14. Isn't this a hoot! What a great name - Mrs. Exeter...but I love that "Arbour Red" top/dress.

  15. Linked back here from today's post. Is she supposed to be plus size? I'm so confused.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

© Gertie's Blog For Better Sewing. Powered by Cake