Dr Rachel Neal

Job: Lecturer in Design Cultures

Faculty: Arts, Design and Humanities

School/department: School of Design

Address: De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, LE1 9BH

T: N/A

E: rachel.neal@dmu.ac.uk


Personal profile

Dr Rachel Neal is a historian of men's dress and material culture in the early twentieth century. She was previously a menswear designer for the high street retailer Next for 10 years before returning to full time study at De Montfort University to complete her MA in Dress history followed by her PhD.

Rachel's research focuses on the history of men's everyday dress and explores men's dress during the First World War and in its aftermath. Her research looks at how the War had an impact on men’s dress and how menswear culture developed in the interwar years by focusing on the narratives of lived experience that are embodied by everyday dress.

Rachel’s approach to research is influenced by her experience as a designer and focuses on materiality, engaging in object-based research along with archival material to develop a more intimate history of dress as it was experienced.

Research group affiliations

Research interests/expertise

  • Everyday Fashion and Dress History
  • Interwar Dress History
  • First World War and Dress 
  • Second World War and Dress
  • Menswear
  • Clothing and Dress in Museums
  • Clothing and Identity
  • Everyday Dress and Lived Experience
  • Design History
  • Social History

Areas of teaching

Fashion and Dress History, Material Culture, Men's Dress History, Fashion and Textiles Cultures, 20th Century Dress History


PhD: Dress History, De Montfort University - 2022

MA: Dress History, De Montfort University – 2018 

BA (Hons): Fashion Design, Birmingham City University – 2007 

Courses taught

Design Cultures

Membership of professional associations and societies

Costume Society

Forthcoming events

Design Cultures Symposium - Stitches That Speak: Biography Through Objects - 20th April 2023, De Montfort University


Conference attendance

 June 2022                    'Patriotism, White Feathers and Standardised suits'

Paper presented at 'Clothes Maketh the Man', Costume Society Conference.

October 2022                    Futures of the Field: A Roundtable Discussion

Roundtable discussion panellist at the Interdisciplinary Workshop on Recreative Practices in the Arts and Humanities, De Montfort University.


February 2022             ‘Material Histories’

Paper presented at Creativity with Impact Symposium, Faculty of Arts, Design and Humanities De Montfort University, Leicester

 May 2021                     ‘He is a little out of shape, like most of us who went through even a part of the Great War: A Nostalgic tribute to a Faithful First World War Cardigan’

Paper presented as part of the Sartorial Society series, conference title Looking Back: The Historicisms, Hauntings and Heritage of Dress.

 October 2020               Panel Chair

Panel chair for the panel ‘Exploding Expectations’ as part of the Autumn Practice-based Research Showcase. De Montfort University, Leicester.

 September 2020          ‘Everyday Dress and the Embodied Narratives of Lived Experience’

Paper presented at the East Midlands Doctoral College Network annual conference titled Sustainability.

 July 2020                     ‘Public Everyday Dress and the Private Stories of Wear: Lifting the lid on Early Twentieth Century Everyday Men’s Dress in the Archives’

Paper presented at the Public Textiles and Dress in Museums and Historic Houses: Textiles and Dress for Display and Show conference at the Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution (CHORD), Wolverhampton University.

 October 2019               ‘Demobilisation and Deconstructing the First World War Uniform: Material Approaches to the Embodied Narratives of Dress’

Paper presented at a Faculty Research Seminar, De Montfort University, Leicester.

 September 2019          ‘Everyday Dress and the Embodied Narratives of Lived Experience’

Paper presented at the PGR Symposium, Crossing Disciplinary Divides, De Montfort University, Leicester.

 September 2019          ‘Re-fashioning the Civilian Soldier: Removing the Khaki British Army Uniform and Reconstructing a Civilian Identity in Everyday Clothes’

Paper presented at the International Society for First World War Studies conference, titled Legacies, held at Leeds University.

 June 2019                    ‘Resonating the Narrative of Human Presence through Everyday Dress’

Paper presented at the Private Textiles and Dress: Domestic and Intimate Textiles and Dress in Museums and Historic Houses conference at the Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution (CHORD), Wolverhampton University.

Current research students

Jiatao Li - Second Supervisor

Jane Smith - Second Supervisor

PhD project

PhD title

From Khaki to Civvies: the First World War, Demobilisation and the Narratives of Men’s Dress


The demobilisation of the British Army after the First World War launched a mass shift from military dress back into civilian clothing. The subject of the First World War and the demobilisation of the British Army is well-established in scholarly research. The narrative of the soldier’s transition from khaki to civvies is, however, less known. This thesis is a study of men’s dress during the First World War and its aftermath, focusing on demobilisation and the sartorial shifts shaped by the move from war to peace. It contributes to the historiography of men’s dress during the twentieth century by shining a light on the story of the First World War demob suit and the impact of the war on men’s dress. To unpack the story of demobilisation, the research explores the meanings and narratives embodied by the army uniform before removing it in exchange for a suit of plain clothes. It examines the ways in which the war shaped men’s everyday dress on the home front and had a lasting effect into the post-war years. The research further illustrates how the material culture in the form of wartime dress and its immaterial meanings continued beyond the Armistice.


This thesis is shaped by an interdisciplinary approach, combining archival sources with the tactile findings from object-based research of surviving men’s dress. Through analysis of archival documents, trade journals and newspapers this thesis traces the wartime developments in men’s dress. Key to this research are the archival private papers, diaries, memoirs, and oral histories through which this thesis seeks to uncover the personal narratives of lived sartorial experiences. The research reveals the individual stories of uniform personalisation, the distaste amongst civilians for standardised suits and the attempts by demobilised soldiers to ameliorate their demob suits. It engages with post-war social and cultural histories to explore the nuances of everyday dress in the war’s aftermath. This thesis shows how dress and personal appearances are interwoven with the lived experience of everyday life and are key in shaping a sense of self.


Ruth Jindal, Mark Bradshaw, Grahame Hudson