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Friday January 10, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday January 10, 2014 MYT 8:53:54 AM
by the invisible woman
Women with many years behind them aren’t about to hang up their love of style just yet.
I WISH I’d known Mrs Exeter – stylish and in her 50s, she sounds like my kind of woman. When she was “born” on the pages of Vogue magazine in 1949, she was introduced as a woman “approaching 60 ... a fact she accepts with perfect good humour and reasonableness.” She was also something we desperately need today – an older woman’s voice in an iconic fashion magazine.
Mrs Exeter is particularly interesting because her tour of duty on the glossy pages of Vogue coincided with an ageist schism, brought about by the relentless rise of youth culture in the 1960s, which ultimately laid the foundation for our present predicament. And by that I mean the conspicuous absence of older voices out there in the wider world. This is a problem right across the board and lately there have been noises in the broadcast media about making efforts to introduce more diversity and redress the balance. This can’t come soon enough.
However, when you get in among the big shiny magazines, there is a definite sense that fingers are being stuck in ears and loud singing is going on. They resolutely and stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that a good deal of what goes into their fashion shoots is of great interest stylistically to older readers and not only that, the older readers are frequently the customers who can actually afford what they put on their pages.
Why would anyone not, therefore, wish to see older generations represented here? Vogue is on record as saying it is an aspirational magazine and that “people want a dream”. Well, we aspire and dream too, and not necessarily about being 25 again.
In the 1950s, Mrs Exeter appeared on two Vogue covers. Can you imagine that happening now? Some liberties had been taken with “smoothing” her face, but she was recognisably an older woman with white hair. She was also slender, with no suggestion of middle-aged spread.
We know that slim was deemed chic decades before Kate Moss uttered the immortal words, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” because Wallis Simpson had already announced, “you can never be too rich or too thin”.
Mrs Exeter was living in terror of an upward movement of the needle on the bathroom scales too, but personally, I could live with “slim” on glossy pages if the faces reflected some life and experience because that at least would be a small step in the right direction.
While I was digging around for information on Mrs Exeter (and there isn’t much), I came upon a piece by Alexandra Shulman, the editor of Vogue, on How To Look Fantastic Over 50, written for Femail in 2006.
In it Shulman says that she is often petitioned for the return of Mrs Exeter but says: “I am not bringing her back to the pages of Vogue because Mrs Exeter nowadays would simply not work as an idea.”
All right ... so change the concept to fit the times. Shulman goes on to explain that, “far from wanting their own fashion commentator, most women over 50 do not wish to be thought of as living in a different shopping cosmos to the rest of the world.”
I wouldn’t disagree with that, but Shulman then goes on to say: “What we want is for the rest of the world to take into account our particular requirements.” Yes! We want to be included! Hurrah! But hang on a minute ... doesn’t “the rest of the world” also include Vogue?
It seems we need to spell this out: we want a Mrs Exeter for 2014. We want a Mrs Exeter in the pages of most, if not all, glossy magazines. We need a Mrs Exeter to explain the problems and pitfalls of older style and how to deal with them. And we would like to know which designers work best in the kind of shapes and styles we now are. All the rest is generic and we can work it out for ourselves.
We want to be included, which is, I think, what Shulman was saying in that 2006 piece but is apparently also deliberately failing to understand. Perhaps the root of the editor’s problem lies in another, more negative statement from her in Julia Twigg’s excellent book, Fashion And Age: “Nobody wants to be fat and nobody wants to be old.” Ah, now I see.
So I say bring back Mrs Exeter – poor Mrs Exeter who was killed off by the swerve to youth culture in the 1960s and who has remained consigned to the archives for almost 50 years. This is her moment. — Guardian News & Media
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