Hidden stewardess wardrobe offers elderly insight

Coltman with her first Aquascutum coat and in her BEA uniform. Picture: Contributed
Coltman with her first Aquascutum coat and in her BEA uniform. Picture: Contributed
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SHE spent her hard-earned cash indulging her secret passion for designer evening dresses, shoes and handbags, but then hid them away, unworn, in her wardrobe.

Now the exotic contents of a 1950s air stewardess’ wardrobe will be one of the highlights of a festival next month exploring the identity of older people in Scotland.

Margaret Coltman, from Bridge-of-Weir, Renfrewshire, died two years ago aged 82, after suffering from dementia. She rarely wore her collection of high-end fashion clothes. Instead, they were her “guilty pleasure” bought on trips to Frasers department store in Glasgow, when not seeing the world with British European Airways (BEA).

Her dazzling collection will appear at “Luminate: - Scotland’s creative ageing festival”. With Scotland and other Western nations seeing elderly populations expanding due to longer life expectancy, festival organisers intend to cast the spotlight on that stage of life and clothes are a key theme.

Coltman’s favourite items included a Baccarat dress, a psychedelic evening dress by Bernat Klein and a pair of Kurt Geiger shoes she tracked down after admiring them on Hillary Clinton. As well as her collection, items by the late designer Jean Muir will be on show.

Dr Chris Lee, retired senior curator at Paisley Museum, is showcasing the items in the ‘Margaret’s Wardrobe’ lecture at the National Museum of Scotland on 31 October.

The talk was piloted on dementia nurses to get them to think of older people as vibrant beings with a past rather than just patients. Coltman herself later became a nurse at a Glasgow hospital.

Dr Lee said: “Margaret had a very varied life from the glamour of being a BEA air stewardess to working in the brain injury unit at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow. She would spend her days off traipsing up to Glasgow to buy high-end clothes which rarely saw the light of day. She was from a generation which didn’t indulge itself.”

Anne Gallacher, Illuminate director, said: “Projections show there will be a 50 per cent increase in the over-60s by 2033. Luminate is aiming to keep older people involved, change their image and bring the generations together.”

A spokeswoman from Alzheimer Scotland said: “What we wear and how we dress is fundamentally woven into our sense of identity and how we share that with the world.”

Luminate, supported by Creative Scotland, Age Scotland and the Baring Foundation, runs 1–31 Oct.