Move over Coleen Rooney, this was the first Wag

Emily Tinne married into a family of Liverpool merchants with money to burn – and she was soon shopping for England. Amol Rajan reports

She had a bias-cut, silk evening dress with diamante clasps on the belt and pink, satin-backed crepe shoulder drapes. There was a classic 1910 bathing suit, jewellery from the distinguished Boodle & Dunthorne and a fine Edwardian chemise.

Considered separately, these items might simply reflect the eccentricities of some long-dead fashionista. But, together with more than 1,000 other garments, hats, shoes and collectibles which have also just been put on public display, they constitute the largest single collection of one woman's clothes owned by any museum in Britain.

Furthermore, they show that almost a century before Liverpool's footballing Wags such as Coleen Rooney, below, gripped the public imagination, one woman had already discovered the joys of retail therapy. The pioneer in question was Emily Tinne, the wife of a prominent GP and exalted socialite in early 20th-century Liverpool.

Born Emily Margaret McCulloch in India in 1886, a decade after Queen Victoria named herself empress of the sub-continent, she was sent to boarding school in England at the age of seven by her Presbyterian father. After leaving school in 1904, she trained briefly as a domestic science teacher before moving with her aunt to Liverpool two years later. There she met a handsome bachelor with deep pockets.

Their romance blossomed 97 years after Jane Austen penned the opening lines to Pride And Prejudice, declaring it a "truth universally acknowledged that a single man in posession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife". And so it proved with Philip Tinne, an eligible young doctor with impeccable family credentials. The Tinne family had arrived in Liverpool from the Dutch colony of Demerara, now part of Guyana in South America, almost a century earlier. Their involvement in slavery, sugar and shipping helped them to accumulate a vast fortune. The future Dr Tinne had family money (which would pay for his sons to go to Eton) and an education too. On 14 July 1910, he and Emily wed in the heart of the city. With money to burn, she began to shop to her heart's content.

At first, it was mostly daywear – dark dresses, comfortable shoes, tit-bit adornments. In 1923, the couple moved to Clayton Lodge, a mansion on the affluent suburb of Aigburth. Here, Dr Tinne set up a GP surgery as an adjunct to the house, caring for the poor of Garston, a neighbouring working-class area. Meanwhile, Mrs Tinne's shopping sprees intensified, with regular visits to Bold Street ( known as the "Bond Street of the North") and tours of department stores whose names were a roll call of middle-class exuberance: George Henry Lee & Co Ltd (now part of the John Lewis Partnership), Bon Marché, Owen Owen and the legendary Cripps, Sons & Co.

Her wardrobe swelled in proportion to the economy and wealth of Liverpool in the inter-war years. In 1910, when the Tinnes first moved to the city, it was establishing itself as the engine of the British Empire, a colonial gateway pulsating with trade and industry. The First World War was a painful interlude but the Roaring Twenties brought wealth back to Liverpool with a vengeance. It was only when the Depression hit that Mrs Tinne's fortunes and those of her city were out of kilter.

And yet, as the exhibition at Liverpool's Sudley House – A Sweet Life: Fashion In A Liverpool Sugar Merchant's Family – shows, the curious thing about her collection is not just its size, it is the fact that half of the items were never worn – many of the pieces were still in their original boxes.

"I've thought long and hard about why that might be," said Pauline Rushton, the exhibition curator. "And it is important not to portray her as an airhead because she had a wonderful social conscience, organising pensions for widows, schemes for unmarried mothers and so on."

One theory is that, with seven children and as the wife of a busy GP, Mrs Tinne had limited time to socialise.

"The fact is that she just enjoyed shopping. You can tell she was addicted to it from the fact that she bought multiple copies of several dresses, each in the same size but of differing colours. Many of them still have their labels and price tags. Those are clear signs of a shopaholic."

Mrs Rushton believes it is impossible to put a price on the clothes in the exhibition, but Mrs Tinne's last surviving child, Alexine, now 86, thinks there may be other ways to measure its value. "She had had a pretty hard time at boarding school and when she got access to money she enjoyed buying nice things," she said. "When she died [in 1966] I cleared 52 tea chests full of dresses, shoes and hats from her attic. They were time capsules. You could open any one and think 'this is from a particular year'. It was like reaching out and touching history."

Ultimately, war prevailed and the advent of clothing rations put paid to Mrs Tinne's sartorial ambitions. "My mother was frustrated intellectually and in a different era she would have done different things," her daughter said. "A generation later, she would have probably had a career."

Somebody had better tell Coleen.

Carola Long: Fashion works its spell across the centuries

Emily Tinne's extensive wardrobe shows that while shopping may have changed radically over the past century, the psychology behind it has not.

Her wardrobe, and her daughter's insights into it, suggest that like today's aspirational consumers, she often shopped for the life she might have wanted rather than the one she actually lived. Pauline Rushton, who curated the collection, highlights "fantasy dresses with low backs and slender silhouettes fit for a Hollywood starlet". Similarly, a rabbit-fur trimmed evening coat of black silk velvet, bought at a local department store, was more suited to the red carpet than the modest social life of a doctor's wife.

Emily Tinne's daughter, Dr Alexine Tinne, doesn't think her mother wore many of the more glamorous pieces, partly because she didn't have the occasion to, and also because her husband would have deemed them too revealing. Women of her time were deemed middle-aged much earlier.

More suited to Tinne's lifestyle, although rather less glamorous, were the loose, drop-waisted dresses she wore every day. Her familiarity with high fashion is clear in shapes that echo the designs of Paul Poiret and a crepe dress with an Art Deco buckle.

Her daughter believes much of her extravagance was aimed at helping local shopgirls who worked on commission, but the flashes of glamour – and even bling – suggest that Emily Tinne was also firmly under fashion's spell.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions