This is what the cover of my copy of The 1950s in Vogue looks like—no book title, no author, and no indication of the fact that the book is actually about Vogue editor, Jessica Daves. Perhaps this is a new innovation in book design, but at first I wondered if the library had ordered the right book.
The cover does serve a purpose, though, showing that author Rebecca Tuite intends to invoke the spirit of Vogue in the 1950s. Rich in photography, the book is also big in size. Coming in at 11”x14”, the size of an old Vogue magazine, it fits on none of my many bookshelves. The paper is glossy and the reproductions are gorgeous. If you are missing the feeling of elegant old Vogue editions, you can find it here.
Vogue editor Jessica Daves is the real subject of this book. Officially she held the position from 1952-1962, although in her book Ready Made Miracle Daves claims the role already in 1948, when Edna Chase was stepping back from the job. Sandwiched in between founding editor Chase and the flamboyant Diana Vreeland, Daves has been praised primarily for her business skills. A very mean obituary in the New York Times quoted someone describing her as “a portly woman with a face like a baked apple.”
Tuite sets the record straight. Not only did Daves balance the books at Vogue, she also began to realign the magazine away from Parisian couture and toward well-made ready to wear. In addition, she augmented coverage of culture and daily life, expanding sections on literature and art while also launching new sections on travel and home design. An avid reader of Vogue could learn about Ruth Asawa’s sculptures and Lorraine Hansberry’s plays, while also following trends in at-home entertaining. The target audience was still the very well off, but Daves believed that good style was a matter of training the eye, not padding the wallet. Her educational approach lost out when the magazine took a turn toward youth and flamboyance under Vreeland.
There is a section on Mrs. Exeter and I’m proud to say that my article was cited. According to Tuite, Mrs. Exeter was a group project, beloved by the editorial staff. Both Chase and Daves endorsed her. Junior editor Virginia Thaw was responsible for the copy–I wonder if she also wrote the witty first person entries. Tuite speculates that Daves herself was the inspiration for the double chinned, cheerful version of Mrs. Exeter in the 1951 Rene Bouché drawing above.
The book is an amalgam of a beautiful coffee table book and a serious scholarly volume. Since I was reading for its scholarly content, I found the size somewhat unwieldy. But you can’t beat it for sheer beauty. If you are interested in the fashion and culture of the fifties, not to mention Vogue magazine itself, be sure to take a look.