It is often said that Diana Vreeland, the famous Vogue editor, killed Mrs. Exeter. However, this witty fashion adviser to the older set was hardly in good shape when Vreeland took over in 1963. At the highpoint of her fashion career in 1950, Mrs. Exeter appeared in nine issues of the magazine, sometimes more than once, and had her own fourteen page fashion spread. In 1962, she was only seen twice, both times in small articles that featured support garments.
I looked through the Vreeland archives at the New York Public Library hoping to find some evidence of her animus against Mrs. Exeter, but came up empty. However, Vreeland’s main assistant and subsequent editor of Vogue, Grace Mirabella, has vented her rage against this old lady in her memoir, In and Out of Vogue: “’Mrs. Exeter’ showed larger sized clothes with high necklines and little cap sleeves to hide drooping arms, modeled by gray-haired ladies who looked seventy and were supposed to be about forty-five. I suppose the advantage of this was that any forty-five-year-old woman reading Vogue could look at ‘Mrs. Exeter’ and feel that she looked a good thirty years younger for her age.”
Well, where to begin my response? First off, the unusual nature of Mrs. Exeter was that she was not supposed to be “about forty-five.” In her very first appearance, she was introduced as being “fifty-odd.” In some of her little stories, she is even in her sixties and seventies. Moreover, Mirabella does not display much knowledge of Mrs. Exeter’s career. Although she was sometimes modeled by old ladies, there were also younger women who filled this role. (More’s the pity, I say). And there is ample evidence that Mrs. Exeter was trying to keep up with the times by dieting and donning capri pants.
I bemoan the death of the first Mrs. Exeter precisely because she wasn’t just an older version of the current crop of fashion models. Don’t we need a few plump, gray haired fashion advisers who look their age?