Every November, when I was a child, my parents had anxious communication with cousins in a remote Pembrokeshire village. We needed to know what to buy my great aunt for Christmas. Every Christmas the answer was the same and it led to the annual pilgrimage to Harrods to buy flesh-coloured, satin pantaloons. Not the baggy belly dancing trousers we might see nowadays, but the kind of undergarment featured in today’s wonderfully interesting book. We ordinary Londoners were amazed that anyone could wear these knee-length slippery knickers but my great-aunt was not an ordinary lady. Like many of the other ladies in this unusually ambitious little village, her husband had been a master mariner: in fact for a while he was the captain of the largest oil tanker in the world. She was well travelled, relatively wealthy, had style and knew what she liked. The local shops didn’t stock the lingerie she had seen in Rotterdam, London and the other great European ports she had visited so at Christmas she appreciated our attempts to make up for her rural isolation. My mother, who did the shopping, wore a more modern style and was concerned to make it clear to the shop assistants who served her in Harrods that the pantaloons were a gift and not a personal preference.
After my much-loved great aunt had died, I had a brief glimpse into her wardrobe. Even at the time I was curious to have a better look, but, as a child,I couldn’t ask for permission to do something that seemed so to intrude into an adult’s private world. I remember that there was white lace and long black garments. It was such a brief, tantalising glimpse.
This book is about the clothes of a woman who was a close contemporary of my great aunt and it is allowing me at last to delve into that wardrobe and rummage around. Every page is profusely and beautifully illustrated with decent sized colour photos and there is a detailed description of each garment featured. It may be a vicarious experience, but I’m loving it all the same.
Mrs Tinne’s Wardrobe – A Liverpool Lady’s Clothes 1900-1940, by Pauline Rushton, published by The Bluecoat Press in association with National Museums Liverpool, is listed by Oxfam Wilmslow on our Amazon page for £24.99.