The Tinne collection of clothing

An English lady's wardrobe

New exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, 25 October 2019 to 1 March 2020

illustrations of women in stylish dresses and coats

Don't miss An English lady's wardrobe - our biggest ever exhibition of the Tinne collection, featuring new insights into the family and exploring shopping and style in Liverpool during the interwar years.



Photograph of an open wardrobe with the contents hung out for display

How the collection came to National Museums Liverpool

The Tinne Collection has come into the possession of National Museums Liverpool over a long period, and in three separate groups.

When Emily Tinne died in 1966, she was living with her youngest daughter, Alexine, at Clayton Lodge, the family home in Aigburth, Liverpool. All her other children had long since moved out and her husband Philip Tinne had died in 1954. Alexine was unwilling to continue occupying such a large house alone, especially when the maintenance costs were becoming onerous. Consequently, she decided to move to a smaller property nearby and had then to undertake the daunting task of disposing of her mother's huge collection of clothes and other effects.

In 1966-67 she offered much of this material to the decorative arts collections at what is now National Museums Liverpool. Some 500 or more items were accepted, including day dresses, evening dresses, outdoor garments, underwear, swimwear, shoes, hats, gloves, stockings, jewellery, babywear, children's and servants' clothes, as well as lengths of unworked fabric left over from garments and even some soft household furnishings such as lace curtains and bed coverlets.

In 2001, Alexine donated a further 162 items, including fur coats and fur-trimmed coats (outdoor garments having been largely and mysteriously missing from the collection until then), fur stoles, blouses, underwear, children's clothes, gloves and hats. Much of this material had been kept by Elspeth Tinne, Emily's eldest daughter, at her home in Edinburgh and had only come back into Alexine's possession following Elspeth's death in 2000.

Finally, in 2003, Alexine donated another 33 items, including evening dresses, children's clothes, shoes, and, most interesting of all, a collection of 1920s and 1930s fashion magazines and paper dress pattern supplements by makers like Weldon's. Some of these go under such startlingly frank titles as 'Smart Fashions for Wider Hips' and 'Outsize Underwear', reflecting the fact that they were bought by Emily at a point in her life when her figure had obviously 'filled out' following the birth of her children.

Print advertising showing three women in outsize underwear

Weldon series no. 355 pattern book for outsize underwear, price 6D, c1935. Text reads: FREE inside these 3 Patterns 42 bust - 46 hips, also LARGE SHEET of TRANSFERS

An unusually large collection

At over 700 items from the same family, the Tinne Collection is of outstanding size and importance. However, it does not reflect the true nature of Emily's buying, one might almost say systematic collecting, of clothes. There were many more garments which National Museums Liverpool has been unable to accept, mainly because of their poor condition, both in 1967 and more recently. Indeed, Alexine Tinne is only now coming to the end of the task of sorting out her mother's clothes, some 40 years after Emily's death.

Emily Tinne's extensive wardrobe was only made possible due to the fact that her husband was a man of substantial private means, over and above what he might have earned as a family doctor. Emily's clothes were never ostentatious in style, and indeed were often typical of many of the mainstream fashions of the inter-War period. But due to its sheer volume, her wardrobe is not truly representative of what most middle-class women of the time possessed. Certainly it is doubtful that the wife of an ordinary general practitioner, with no other form of income than his standard fees, might have been able to afford so many clothes.

Date range of the collection

Strangely there are scarcely any examples in the collection which pre-date Emily's marriage in 1910. Alexine Tinne believes that, due to her frugal Scottish Presbyterian background, her mother owned relatively few clothes before her marriage. As a missionary in India, Emily's father, William McCulloch, was a man of modest means and his children had a fairly spartan up-bringing. There was little money available for buying what he viewed as unnecessary luxuries.

Similarly, there is a distinct lack of clothing in the collection dating from the period after 1939, although this, of course, is more easily explained by the outbreak of the Second World War in that year. One assumes that, from that point onwards, Emily literally had to 'make-do-and-mend' with clothes of the pre-War years, and that clothes rationing and coupons largely put an end to her more excessive shopping.

Print advert showing two women in long dresses and hats promoting free patterns inside

Weldon's transfer series no 36 pattern book, c1930. Text reads: Smart fashions for outsizes, 6D. A large sheet of transfers given inside. Collar and cuffs embroidered from free transfer. Given inside these 2 free patterns.

Useful insights into changing styles

As a whole, the collection provides useful insights into the clothing of the middle-class woman in the inter-War years, even though Emily was by no means typical in terms of the sheer volume of things that she owned. Much of her daywear is what one would expect a woman of her age and social position to own in the 1920s and 1930s. She favoured clothes in subdued colours, with muted tones of blue, grey, brown, green and red occurring most frequently, and subtly-coloured floral prints. Most of the main developments in dress styles can be seen, from the late Edwardian through the looser, drop-waisted styles of the 1920s into the sharper, more tailored designs of the early-mid 1930s.