Eliza Wyke / Fashion History & Exhibitions  / Mrs Tinne’s Wardrobe: A Liverpool Lady’s Clothes

Mrs Tinne’s Wardrobe: A Liverpool Lady’s Clothes

Last month I had the opportunity to visit Liverpool and see an intriguing exhibition.  In contrast to usual fashion exhibitions which have a theme or highlight a design house, this exhibition contained a snapshot of a collection from one woman’s wardrobe; Mrs Emily Tinne.  Indeed the entire collection, comprising more than 700 items, is the “largest collection of one person’s clothes in a British Museum” and was donated to the National Museum Liverpool by Emily’s youngest daughter.  

This exhibition covered 1900 to 1940 – the years in which Emily married (into the Tinne family – a prominent and wealthy family in Liverpool) and had several children.  Her collection comprises items made by her dressmaker, items purchased on shopping trips (of which there must have been many!) and multiple versions of the same item.  Many items are unworn / still in their original packaging or with the price tag on.  It appears Mrs Tinne was a compulsive shopper.  Indeed, she would buy items that didn’t fit, for which she had no social occasion to wear, or were simply too “young” for her middle aged figure.  Her daughter who gifted the extensive wardrobe assumed this was because she simply liked to look at the items. 

Nobody knows the reasons for such a shopping compulsion – the Curator’s notes suggest a strict childhood and then marrying into wealth, perhaps?  Whatever the reason, the exhibition allowed a fascinating insight into upper-middle class life from the lady’s clothes circa 1900 to 1940.  

The exhibition shows day-wear, under garments, a wide range of accessories and an extensive evening wear selection.  A few images of which are below: 

This chiffon day dress is completed with a stole trim, complete with feet (yuck!); never worn as it still has the price tag on!

This corset worn when Emily was a teenager – possibly used to play sport (!) – tennis – as it’s “cut to allow the wearer maximum flexibility” (honestly that’s what the notes say!)

Emily had 7 children between 1911 and 1929.  This is her only surviving maternity corset (that’s right maternity corset!).  It allowed the wearer to let it out as pregnancy continued..!

A selection of her coats and furs.   Despite having a wide range of furs, she hardly wore them (they’re in excellent condition).  Her family believed she may have bought them during the Depression to keep the shop assistants in work.

The evening wear section is extensive with many pristine items.

In the 1920s many of the beaded panels were made in embroidery workshops in Paris into panels and then exported – they could be made up by local dressmakers.  This one cost seven shillings and sixpence (equivalent of about £21 today).

Elegant evening wear purchased in the wrong size, or for a lifestyle which didn’t accommodate such occasions.  An extravagance or an addition?

Dresses for a younger woman than she and purchased in a size that didn’t fit – this wasn’t aspirational purchasing as she wasn’t aspiring to look wealthy (she was).

Beautiful opera coat – another example which was probably never worn.

Looking at the exhibition and the mass of unworn clothes with 2020 eyes is fascinating on many levels.  Firstly we are becoming increasingly conscious of over-consuming clothes (and other items for that matter), yet here we have an extensive catalogue of clothing and accessories which would probably never have been preserved, had this wealthy woman not over-indulged.  Secondly, the fact that many items haven’t been worn makes for interesting viewing as a tailor (often clothes are in far from perfect condition when they’re displayed in a museum and a modern replica isn’t the same), so we can examine the level of work-woman-ship (the rag-trade has always been predominately female).  Finally, as many of the items purchased were ordinary every day items, not necessary high-designer fashion, and were more attainable to “normal” women of the time – many came from high end department stores, which were becoming increasingly popular and growing in stature during the period – we can get a sense of the way the modern high street developed from infancy. 

Sadly the exhibition has now closed, but I hope to hear more (and perhaps see more) about Mrs Tinne’s wardrobe in the future.  

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