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Mrs Tinne’s bathing costume, cap and espadrilles, 1910, by LY & J Nathan

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About the artwork

Emily Margaret Tinne (1886-1966) married Philip Frederic Tinne on 14 July 1910 at the Presbyterian Church, Toxteth Park, Liverpool. They honeymooned in Ireland, at Culdaff, County Donegal, where Philip’s father, John Ernest Tinne owned a house. This later became the setting for many happy family holidays with their children.

Emily, like most women at that time, would have put together a trousseau, or collection of clothes and linen, before her marriage. It included this wonderful bathing costume, bathing cap and pair of espadrilles.

The two-piece bathing costume is made from wool serge, a rather scratchy fabric that was probably very heavy and uncomfortable to wear when wet. It is embroidered around the buttoned-in bib-front and sailor collar with a scrolling design, a Greek key pattern, and a pair of crossed anchors in red wool. The baggy, knee-length bathing knickers fasten with a drawerstring at the waist. Emily bought this outfit from L.Y. & J. Nathan, who were based at 4 Hardman Street, Liverpool. Lewin Yates and Jane Nathan appear in the Liverpool street directories as ‘Shirtmakers, Hosiers and Clerical Outfitters’ from the 1860s until the early 1940s, but they also, quite oddly, appear to have sold swimwear too.

The bathing cap is made from cotton sateen, a mixture of cotton and silk, backed with a rubber solution to make it waterproof. It is decorated with three pleats of cream silk at the front and can be adjusted to the wearer’s head size by pulling on the red woollen drawstring tapes at the centre back.

The espadrilles are of white linen, embroidered with anchor motifs in red wool, with soles of coiled jute. The bound edges and laces are of pink cotton tape. Espadrilles were originally worn in Spain, parts of France and Italy and were adopted in Britain for seaside and holiday wear during the late nineteenth century. This pair is very similar to those still available in the shops today, the only difference being the high-cut backs.

This entire outfit, although not as glamorous as many of Emily Tinne’s evening or outdoor garments, is a very important part of the Tinne collection. It is a rare survivor from a period when swimwear was much more concealing and restrictive, reflecting social attitudes about the female body. Relatively few outfits like this survive in museum collections today, mainly because they deteriorated quickly after being in water and were often thrown away.

By the 1920s, swimwear had become much more fitted to the body, thanks to the increasing use of lighter, more stretchy fabrics like machine-knitted cotton jersey. Gradually, it became acceptable for women to show more of their bodies while swimming or sun-bathing. This outfit would have appeared very old-fashioned to a woman of the 1920s, even though it was only a relatively recent fashion.