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Mrs Tinne’s Wardrobe

Natalie Crawford reminds us that they also serve who only go and shop...

As we remember the brave fighters of 1940’s Battle of Britain, I am put in mind of all the various war era heroes that go unsung. There were so many spectacular acts of bravery and kindness by every day people during both wars and the depression in between, that they are too numerous to count. Of course on occasions such as these we should commend the men and women who put their lives on the line for our freedom, but I would also like to take a short moment to remember the lesser known who ‘did their bit’ for Britain.

One such philanthropist was Mrs Emily Margaret Tinne. Born Emily McCulloch in 1886, this remarkable woman, brought up in a staunch Presbyterian household, could have had no idea how her path in life could affect others so profoundly. Despite her modest upbringing, Emily was to marry into the exceptionally wealthy Tinne family of Liverpool in 1910. Her husband Philip was a local doctor but also heir to the Tinne fortune (derived originally from the family’s sugar and ship businesses).

This dizzying wealth undoubtedly took its hold on Emily as she was suddenly able to afford any luxury she desired. However, she still maintained a modest appearance and did not flaunt her new found wealth openly. Even so, she is thought of as one of England’s first, and finest, shopaholics as she amassed a secret collection of thousands of items of clothing, many of which she never wore. It is this prolific spending that makes her a minor heroine in her own right.

During the first half of the twentieth century, shop assistants did not take a wage, they worked simply on commission. Obviously, during the war years and the depression these girls would have been taking pitiful pay packets home. It is thought that Mrs Tinne, each afternoon, would head into Liverpool to go shopping. She combined her new found love for retail with her desire to help those less fortunate than herself. She would purchase outfit upon outfit (often multiples of the same style) because she could; because this was her way of contributing to the war effort and to the helplessness of situation young people found themselves in.

She herself was not a flamboyant woman and had trained to teach before she met her husband. Being thrown into such a dynasty, Emily quickly found herself without occupation; her children had nannies and she was not allowed to work. Shopping and providing vital commissions became her livelihood, became her purpose for being. Without it, many shop assistants in Liverpool would have been a lot poorer, and we would have been deprived of a perfect cultural snap shot.

Liverpool Museum are now proud owners of much of this vast collection and back in 2006 displayed articles free of charge to the public. The book of the collection, “Mrs Tinne’s Wardrobe: A Liverpool Lady’s Clothes 1900-1940” is a beautiful and intriguing record of her life; a must have for any fashion or historical enthusiast. It provides a brief history to Emily and the Tinne family as well as detail on Liverpool shopping at that time. The collection included covers a vast array of her garments from everyday dresses and evening wear to stockings and swim suits. Each example is photographed in full colour alongside a detailed description of fabric, stitching, cost and, where possible, information as to the occasion on which it was worn.

The collection spans the period from the First World War onwards, and ends abruptly in 1939 - It is thought that even Mrs Tinne’s wealth could not avoid the rationing of the second world war, forcing even her to make-do-and-mend. But photographed alongside her wardrobe are some of the sewing patterns she also bought, which undoubtedly came in useful during more frugal times.

The catalogue book is stunning and very often I sit to simply flick through the pages, wishing somehow that these incredible fashions would come back in. It is a veritable time line of silks and velvets but does not discount the more accessible middle-class garment. As she was a humble woman, it is one of the very few collections that not only includes the glamorous but the mundane as well. 

Mrs Tinne passed away in 1966 leaving all her articles to her children. When her daughter came to clear the family home, she found piled chests stuffed with clothing still sitting in place as a barricade which Emily formed in fear of invasion during the Second World War.  As well as this, she also had whole rooms dedicated to her clothes and accessories. Whether her purchasing intentions were actually heroic, we may never really know, but I like to think they were. I would love to have seen those shop girls’ faces, filled with relief and gratitude as Emily Tinne walked in.

I doubt very much if she knew the legacy she was leaving, but it is one makes the heart warm.

Publisher: The Bluecoat Press (2006)   ISBN: 978-1904438205 
RRP: £15.99 



Jeremy said...

I'll be honest, buying a load of fancy threads in a time of austerity doesn't seem especially heroic or charitable to me, regardless of how the Liverpool Museum wish to dress her up (hah) as a local hero - especially not when she was also doing it during the boom years. But putting it into something helpful like a benevolent fund or a soup kitchen is much less useful to fashion historians, I suppose...

Sarah said...

I'd agree, it's not exactly 'Make Do & Mend', especially with the fabric shortages, but I suppose it was more helpful than stuffing the money under her mattress. Oo, I'd love to get a peek at that collection.

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