Sunday, 21 April 2013

Mrs Tinne's Wardrobe

In late 2011 I went to the Lady Lever Art Gallery on Merseyside to see the exhibition The Finishing Touch - Women's Accessories, 1830-1940. As well as the exhibition itself, I came across a display copy of a fascinating book; “Mrs Tinne's Wardrobe, A Liverpool Lady’s Clothes, 1900 - 1940”. Always keen to add to my library of costuming books, I trotted down to the gallery shop in eager anticipation, only to be told that the book was out of print.

When I got home I contacted National Museums Liverpool via their website to express my disappointment that the book was no longer available, and received a reply that hopefully the title would be reprinted soon. Then last summer I received an email from Pauline Rushton, curator of Costume and Textiles and author of the book, to tell me that the reprint was now available. Finally I could get my own copy!

I have meant to write a post about it since then, and a weekend visit to the exhibition, Mrs Tinne's Wardrobe, at the Walker Art Gallery has finally prompted me to do so.

Emily Tinne in 1910

Emily Tinne (1886-1966) was the wife of a Liverpool doctor. Although trained as a cookery teacher, upon marriage in 1910 she gave up work, as was normal at the time. Thereafter she brought up a family, managed the family home, and shopped. Especially shopped.

In the period 1910 - 1940 Mrs Tinne acquired a truly astounding quantity of clothes, many of which she never seems to have worn, as they still have their paper labels attached. While the sheer volume of her purchases does not accurately represent the wardrobe of most middle-class women of the time (her husband had a private income, over and above what he earned as a family doctor), the clothes themselves are typical of many of the mainstream fashions worn by a woman of her age and social position in the inter-war period.

The Tinne family in about 1926

Upon Mrs Tinne’s death her daughter offered the collection to National Museums Liverpool. Even though many garments were in too poor a condition for the museum to accept, the Tinne collection still consists of more than 700 items of clothes, as worn by one family over many years. As many of the everyday clothes of this period were either thrown away, or the fabric reused in the ‘make do and mend’ years of the Second World War, it is probably unique.

As well as buying clothes, Mrs Tinne had many garments made for her by as local dressmaker, and the collection also includes a number of 1920s and 1930s fashion magazines and paper dress pattern supplements by makers like Weldon's. By this time she had borne seven children, and her figure reflected this. Unlike the 'Plus Size’ names used by pattern companies today these patterns are, shall we say, 'frank' in their titles, with ‘Outsize’ often in the largest typeface on the pattern envelope.

Less-than-subtle pattern envelopes

The current exhibition features 14 outfits, 10 of which have never been on public display before. It includes evening and dinner dresses, furs, day dresses and a rare maternity dress from about 1920.

1930-32 day dress, © National Museums Liverpool

1934-36 dinner dress, © National Museums Liverpool

1935-36 evening dress, © National Museums Liverpool

Details of previous exhibitions from the collection can be found here and here.

But back to the book. It contains beautifully clear photographs of 280 of the best-preserved items from the Tinne collection; day, evening and outdoor clothes, plus accessories, children’s clothes, hats, shoes and underwear. Overall it provides a fascinating picture of the changes in women’s clothing from the end of the Edwardian period through the looser, drop-waisted styles of the 1920s and on to the more tailored designs of the 1930s. In addition there is more information about the Tinne family, and on shopping in Liverpool in the inter-war years. An interesting read, plus lots of drool-worthy photographs - what more could you want? The book can be purchased from National Museums Liverpool’s online shop here.

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