In my role as a book volunteer in Wilmslow’s Oxfam shop, I’m constantly delighted by the enormous range, quality and quantity of donated books. When this wonderful book came onto my desk I lingered over it, remembering a childhood experience that I had not thought about for years.
Every November, when I was a child, my London-based parents had anxious communication with cousins in Dinas. 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 the book I was examining and pricing for the Oxfam shelves. 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 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 she appreciated our attempts to make up for her rural isolation at Christmas . 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 thought I was too young 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.
‘Mrs Tinne’s Wardrobe’ was about the clothes of a woman who was a close contemporary of my great aunt’s and it allowed me at last to delve into that wardrobe and rummage around. Every page was profusely and beautifully illustrated with decent sized colour photos and there was a detailed description of each garment featured. It may have been a vicarious experience, but I loved it all the same.
(A version of this post first appeared in oxfamwilmslow.wordpress.com on 9.7.2013)