Sunday, 10 November 2019

An English lady's wardrobe at the Walker Art Gallery

I have posted before about the Tinne collection, the remarkable collection of clothing accumulated by Emily Tinne, a Liverpool doctor's wife, in the period 1910-1940. Consisting of over 700 items, it forms the largest collection of one person's clothing in any museum in the UK. An English lady's wardrobe is a new exhibition of over 70 costumes from the collection. While there aren't quite that many photographs in this post, it is a long and image-heavy one, so make yourself comfortable! Click on any image to see a larger version.

Day and evening wear from Mrs Tinne's extensive wardrobe, (l to r) 1910, 1913, 1925, 1928-30, 1932-35, 1935-36

Pauline Rushton, Curator of Costumes and Textiles at National Museums Liverpool, has been given access to a large number of the Tinne family's photographs and letters by surviving family members, and these shed some light on certain aspects of the collection. Quotes from the letters appear throughout the exhibition, which begins with information about the family. While the Tinnes made their money from sugar (the exhibition does not shy away from their links to slave and then indentured labour), Emily Margaret McCulloch was the daughter of Scottish Presbyterian missionaries. Born in India, she was sent to live with family members in Edinburgh when very young, and later to a school for the children of missionaries. All in all, it seems to have been a frugal and somewhat rootless upbringing, and it is possible that her extensive shopping habit once she found herself with a home and money of her own may have been connected to this.

Part of the display about the Tinne family

Mrs Tinne did not just buy clothes. She also had items made by her dressmaker, Mrs Taylor, who was the wife of the chauffeur to a family who lived nearby. The Tinne collection includes some lengths of fabric which were never made up, and numerous dress patterns. Sadly, a favourite of mine from the collection, Weldon's frankly-named pattern Smart Fashions for Wider Hips, does not feature in this exhibition, but many of those which do appear reflect the 1930s view of older women whose figures had filled out.

'Outsize' and 'Matrons' patterns

The clothing part of the exhibition begins with day wear, starting with items from soon after Emily Tinne's marriage in 1910. Although she had seven pregnancies, the collection includes very few maternity outfits; one is displayed here.

Teens era clothing, the maternity dress is on the right

As is obvious from the above photograph, the exhibition space is very light and airy, and the clothes are displayed in such a way that it is possible to see the sides and back of many of them.

Views of a hand-embroidered natural tussah silk dress, 1916-18

1920s and 1930s items

One of the joys of the Tinne collection, from a curator's point of view, is not the special items it contains but the everyday ones. Clothes such as this inexpensive ready-made dress were rarely deemed worth keeping by their owners. Mrs Tinne however was in the habit of buying multiples of such things in different colours and then leaving many of them unworn.

Cotton and rayon mix dress, 1930-32

I particularly liked this smart dress with its bold buttons.

Wool crepe and rayon silk dress, 1932-35

The sleeve detail on this dress is amazing, but I wonder if it would be annoying to wear?

Printed rayon crepe day dress, 1932-35

The next section features underwear.

Underwear, 1900-30

Not only did Emily Tinne not wear much of what she bought, she even left the price labels on many things. This camisole cost 12 shillings and sixpence, which equates to approximately £49 today.

Cotton lawn camisole from Owen Owen 1910-20

Emily's passion for shopping did not extend to children's wear. She made many of her daughters' clothes herself, and favoured items which were made to last and could be passed down to the younger children.

Children's clothes

I have posted before about the changes in fashion in the period 1900-1935 as seen in my own family, and this exhibition makes the same point by looking at swimwear. The orange costume of wool serge was worn by Mrs Tinne on her honeymoon in 1910. While still bulky by today's standards, the knitted cotton jersey swimsuit she wore two decades later must have represented a huge improvement.

Bathing costumes from 1910 and 1930-35

When it came to outdoor wear Mrs Tinne, no doubt like many women of her class, clearly liked furs - although it's unclear how many of them she actually wore. I however do not, so I didn't linger over this section.

Coats, mostly fur

Hats though are another matter altogether. The accompanying exhibition notes explain that at this time it was usual for a woman to wear a hat outdoors. They go on to add that it was not usual for one woman to have 150 of them! This is only a selection of the 110 which still survive.

Hats, hats . . .

. . . and more hats

The item in the centre of the second photograph is a motoring bonnet, hence the long veil.

Evening wear comes next. Emily bought her trousseau in Edinburgh, and this dress comes from Henry Darling & Co. The shop had closed by the time I was growing up, but my parents remember it. The dress shows how slim she was when she married.

Black silk dress, 1910

The Tinnes were from the social class which dressed formally for dinner, and while Mr Tinne's work as a GP may have meant that his evenings were taken up with seeing patients, Mrs Tinne at least had a busy social life. She clearly liked beaded dresses, silk velvets, machine lace and, especially, black.

Evening wear

I had never realised that many 1920s beaded dresses came as pre-made panels exported from Paris, to be put together by a dressmaker. The collection includes one such panel, which has been mounted so that it can be properly seen. It cost seven shillings and sixpence - about £21 today, so far less than her cotton camisole from Owen Owen!

Silk crepe and beading dress front, 1925-30

Silk velvet devoré dinner dress, 1932-34

While the dress above is entirely suitable for someone of Emily Tinne's age and shape in the 1930s, the collection includes a number of very glamorous dresses designed for someone much younger and slimmer. The Tinne family believe that Emily bought them simply because she liked them, but with no expectation of ever wearing them. One such is this dress with an attached cape, beautifully bias-cut to catch the light in different ways.

Silk satin-backed crepe and silk satin, 1935-36

Although Mrs Tinne clearly liked clothing and hats, shoes do not seem to have excited her interest so much. Although the exhibition includes a number of pairs, they are relatively plain. Also, they have all been used; there is no evidence that she put away pairs unworn, as she did with clothes.

Shoes, and yet more hats

The final part of the exhibition looks at the inter-war shopping experience in Liverpool as Emily Tinne would have known it. This, I imagine, will mainly be of interest to people who know the city. It certainly made me realise just how many big stores have closed in the time since I moved down here. At the top of the market was the ladies outfitters Cripps, on Bold Street, which offered entirely bespoke clothing. This was long-gone by the time I arrived in 1982, and the premises had become a bookshop. I remember it as being a very large shop, so clearly Cripps was a successful business.


Below Cripps were the department stores; with Hendersons, George Henry Lee and the Bon Marché at the top, then Lewis's, Owen Owen and Blacklers. The Bon Marché became part of George Henry Lee in 1961, which explains something I had often wondered about - why Lees as I knew it consisted of two apparently separate stores joined by a single corridor on the first floor. Hendersons, by then Binns, closed in 1983, and Lewis's, Owen Owen and Blacklers all followed. Lees was renamed John Lewis Liverpool, and decamped to the swanky new/soulless (delete as preferred) Liverpool ONE shopping area in 2008. As I don't shop in Liverpool that often now, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about these stores and taking a trip down memory lane, albeit while feeling rather old!

I bought my sewing machine here in 1986 - unlike the store, it's still going strong

I think that anyone with an interest in inter-war fashions would greatly enjoy this exhibition. I certainly did - indeed, I'm already planning a second visit. An English lady's wardrobe runs until 1 March 2020, and the museum is hoping to tour it after that. If this has piqued your interest but visiting is out of the question, the revised edition of Pauline Rushton's book on the Tinne collection is available to buy here.

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