Radiant; An English Lady’s Wardrobe

By Mary Wheelehan

A black evening gown with diamond trim. A fur wrap. Silk undergarments. Sparkling jewelry. Dress after dress after dress, some with bright floral patterns, others in subtle shades of blue. All of these remarkable pieces have been preserved, together, for decades, and all will be on display at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool this October in an exhibition unlike any before.

On October 25th, the Walker Art Gallery will debut a new exhibition of over seventy outfits of all sorts: formal wear, casual wear, shoes, accessories, and undergarments. Most of these items were purchased between 1910–1939, many of them from ladies’ stores local to Liverpool. This period exhibition would be remarkable enough already, but it is truly unique for another reason: all of these items were purchased by a single person. And we know her name. This is An English Lady’s Wardrobe, the collection once owned by Ms. Emily Margaret Tinne of Liverpool.

Emily Margaret Tinne, taken around the time of her marriage in 1910.
Photograph courtesy of the Tinne family.

Although the Walker Art Gallery has displayed items of Ms. Tinne’s before, An English Lady’s Wardrobe is the largest display of her collection yet. And what a large collection it is. All of the items were donated by Ms. Tinne’s daughter, Dr. Alexine Tinne, who spent forty years going through her mother’s many clothes after her death in 1966. Ms. Emily Tinne certainly loved to shop.

Ms. Tinne was born the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary in India in 1886. Although her upbringing was frugal, her marriage to the wealthy Dr. Philip Frederic Tinne in 1910 enabled her to indulge in her favorite pastime: shopping. Much of this shopping was done locally in Liverpool—at Cripps, the Bon Marché, George Henry Lee’s, Owen Owen Ltd, and Lewis’s. Local Liverpool shopping from the early 20th century will form a central exploration of the exhibition, as visitors marvel at the enormous size of Ms. Tinne’s wardrobe.

Emily and Philip Tinne with their children, 1926.
Photograph courtesy of the Tinne family.

Why Ms. Tinne bought so much is a mystery. Some suggest that she, like many others today, exhibited symptoms of an addiction to shopping. Her daughter, Dr. Alexine Tinne, offers other reasons. Ms. Tinne, although intelligent and educated, would have been unable to work outside of the home as a married woman. Perhaps she was simply searching for something to occupy her empty days.

In the case of the more ostentatious items Ms. Tinne purchased, especially during the Great Depression, she might have shopped in an act of philanthropy. The salespeople she bought from, Ms. Tinne knew, would earn much-needed commissions on her expensive purchases. If Ms. Tinne did shop out of kindness, it would not be her only charitable action; she was a benefactor to a number of causes, many of them related to women’s welfare.

Ms. Tinne’s greatest gift to us is, of course, her exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery. An English Lady’s Wardrobe is the largest exhibition of a single person’s clothes in the UK, and it is made even more incredible by the unique characteristics of Ms. Tinne’s collection. The items—clothing and accessories as well as original sewing patterns and fashion magazines—create a clear picture of popular fashion during the interwar years. Clothing from the Edwardian style of the 1910s, the loose fit of the 1920s, and the sharp, tailored designs of the 1930s are all represented in the exhibition.

The Weldon’s Ladies’ Home Journal, containing patterns that Emily Tinne’s dressmaker may have used to design her clothing.

Ms. Tinne’s collection is a true representation of one woman’s taste, as clothes for every occasion, rather than just those for special events, have been preserved. Remarkably, many of the items were discovered unworn, tagged, and still in their original packaging—as if Ms. Tinne had just brought them home.

With additional displays of Tinne family letters, as well as clothing worn by the Tinne children and servants, An English Lady’s Wardrobe truly allows visitors to step back in time and get to know Ms. Emily Margaret Tinne: a lady who loved beautiful things.

An English Lady’s Wardrobe will run at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool from October 25th 2019 to March 2020. Tickets may be purchased here.

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