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!