Dr Serena Dyer

Job: Associate Professor of Fashion History

Faculty: Arts, Design and Humanities

School/department: School of Fashion and Textiles

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

T: 0116 2577415

E: serena.dyer@dmu.ac.uk

W: http://dmu.ac.uk/serenadyer

Social Media: www.serenadyer.co.uk


Personal profile

Dr Serena Dyer FRHistS AFHEA is a historian, broadcaster, and curator, specializing in the history of fashion, shopping, and material culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Her prize-winning first book, Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the 18th Century, was published by Bloomsbury in 2021. She also edited Shopping and the Senses (Palgrave, 2022), Disseminating Dress (Bloomsbury, 2022), and Material Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Bloomsbury, 2020). Her current research projects include work on the performance of British patriotism through dress, the history of buying British, historicism and sartorial temporality, and recreation and remaking dress as a historical methodology.

​Serena is Lecturer in History of Design and Material Culture at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. She completed her ESRC-funded PhD at the University of Warwick in 2016, and she also has previously taught at the University of Hertfordshire and the University of York. Before returning to academia, Serena was Curator of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture and Assistant Curator at the National Portrait Gallery. She is the presenter of English Heritage/Immediate Media's Fashion Through History, and she regularly appears on BBC radio. She currently leads the AHRC-funded Making Historical Dress: Hands, Bodies and Methods Network (Co-I, Dr Sarah Bendall ACU).

Research group affiliations

Institute of History, Institute of Art and Design

Publications and outputs

  • Portable Patriotism: Britannia and Material Nationhood in Miniature
    dc.title: Portable Patriotism: Britannia and Material Nationhood in Miniature dc.contributor.author: Dyer, Serena dc.description.abstract: This chapter tackles how the concept of British nationhood was mediated by small, portable material goods in the century that followed the 1707 Acts of Union. While existing narratives of nation-making have focused on the political, religious, and military forging of Britishness, this chapter instead considers how Britain’s intersecting industrial and commercial transformations offered opportunities for manufacturers and retailers to commoditize nationhood through material culture. This chapter restores the materiality of nationhood to historical narratives of patriotism to show that the commercialization of Britishness, through small things, provided a means of manufacturing and molding an affective form of British identity. This chapter focuses specifically on how the figurehead of Britannia signalled a material patriotism that could be worn, carried, and displayed at moments of national importance. Her image, as warrior queen, mother of the nation, and colonial pioneer, was replicated on fans, jewelry, and other decorative objects to formulate miniature material articulations of a national rhetoric. These small items held chronometric and affective significance for their owners and were complex signals of both transient and more enduring feelings of patriotism.
  • Shopping and the Senses: A Sensory History of Retailing and Consumption
    dc.title: Shopping and the Senses: A Sensory History of Retailing and Consumption dc.contributor.author: Dyer, Serena dc.description.abstract: This book demonstrates the primacy of touch, smell, taste, sight and sound within the retail landscape. It shows that histories of the senses, body, and emotions were inextricably intertwined with processes and practices of retail and consumption. Shops are sensory feasts. From the rustle of silk to the tempting aroma of coffee, the multi-sensory appeal of goods has long been at the heart of how we shop. This book delves into and beyond this seductive idyl of consumer sensuality. Shopping was a sensory activity for consumers and retailers alike, but this experience was not always positive. This book is inhabited by tired feet and weary workers, as well as eager shoppers. It considers embodied sensory experiences and practices, and it represents both a celebration and interrogation of the integration of sensory histories into the study of retail and consumption. Crucially, this book places breathing, feeling human bodies back into the retail space.
  • Disseminating Dress: Britain’s Fashion Networks 1500-1960
    dc.title: Disseminating Dress: Britain’s Fashion Networks 1500-1960 dc.contributor.author: Dyer, Serena; Halbert, Jade; Littlewood, Sophie dc.description.abstract: Fashion travels. Every new shape of sleeve, each novel method of cutting and any innovation in fabric has spread through complex networks of makers, retailers and consumers. Disseminating Dress represents the first historical study of how these networks of fashion communication functioned and evolved in an increasingly global material world. Focussing on Britain – separated from mainland Europe, yet increasingly globally-linked – this volume will trace how dress was disseminated in and out of one island nation. The paths made by print, image and commodities around the globe have enabled historians to reimagine a connected material world. The influence of innovations in dissemination shape this volume, which asks urgent questions about the extent of global influence on fashion, and the intertwining nature of written, printed, visual and material fashion news. This collection brings together innovative scholarship from an interdisciplinary group of historians, art historians and fashion scholars to consider how global and local networks of dress dissemination converged to shape fashionable dress in Britain, and how British methods and aesthetics spread outwards across the world. From the drawing rooms of 19th-century London, to the verandas of 19th-century Australia, contributors to Disseminating Dress develop narratives of commodity and knowledge exchange to consider how fashion circulated.
  • ‘I Have Been a Collector of Costumes’: Women, Dress Histories and the Temporalities of Eighteenth-Century Fashion
    dc.title: ‘I Have Been a Collector of Costumes’: Women, Dress Histories and the Temporalities of Eighteenth-Century Fashion dc.contributor.author: Dyer, Serena dc.description.abstract: By the early nineteenth century, the ‘costume book’ genre was well established as a catalogue of national habits. These chronologically, socially and geographically devised sartorial indexes to the world strove to use dress as a means of categorising and delineating humankind. Such publications espouse a sense of neat chronological evolution, situated within a framework of masculine progress. While the majority of published costume books from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were authored by men, this article explores the myriad ways in which women too constructed, subverted and engaged in sartorial histories. Published dress histories attempted to use dress as a means of constructing a coherent chronological narrative of a national heritage. Yet amateur women, such as Catherine Hutton, Mary White and Laetitia Powell, used pens, scissors, paste and needles to reach back through that time-tunnel, borrowing from and taking possession of the sartorial past. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Making the Material Home: Consumption, Craft, and Gender in Domestic Spaces
    dc.title: Making the Material Home: Consumption, Craft, and Gender in Domestic Spaces dc.contributor.author: Dyer, Serena dc.description.abstract: The material culture of domestic life has habitually been gendered as feminine. The traditional narrative has painted women as home-makers and consumers, creating a comfortable domestic space, and conceiving of their work as that of a household manager, wife, and mother. However, this gendered binary has overshadowed the domestic craft skill displayed by men, and male contributions to the material life of the home. This chapter explores how both men and women made and crafted items for use in domestic space, and how these items were integrated into a wider culture of collaborative domestic consumption. Building on the work of Vickery, Sarti, and de Vries, this chapter will engage with the corpus of material goods purchased for and produced in eighteenth-century English households. From embroideries and furniture, to wooden figures and shell crafts, both men and women actively engaged in the production of the material goods which filled the home, and in overseeing and managing the bespoke production of items they consumed. This chapter will begin with an examination of the domestic consumption of Sir Rowland and Lady Sabine Winn of Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, as they renovated the interior of their house in the 1760s. From Chippendale furniture to Lady Winn’s handcrafted adorned prints, the interiors of Nostell contained a full range of consumed and crafted goods. The dynamics of the material culture of this grand domestic space existed between fashionable finery and creative craft, as both husband and wife engaged in a collaborative process of domestic design. Captured in correspondence between the couple, and from tradespeople, as well as the preserved interiors, Nostell demonstrates the collaborative creation of a joint domestic material culture. The chapter will then expand to consider a broader array of collaborative partnerships during the creation of domestic spaces. The letters and accounts of couples setting up and maintaining home in eighteenth-century England will be examined, painting a picture of the socio-economic spread of couples’ collaborative homemaking. Both genders will be shown to have actively participated in the production of domestic material culture, countering the consumer (female) and producer (male) binary, prevalent in scholarship. It was together that these couples consumed and crafted domestic items, making the material home together.
  • Object in Focus. A Wallpaper Sandwich: Comfort in the Student Room in 19th-Century Cambridge
    dc.title: Object in Focus. A Wallpaper Sandwich: Comfort in the Student Room in 19th-Century Cambridge dc.contributor.author: Dyer, Serena dc.description.abstract: During renovations in the late 1990s, a ‘wallpaper sandwich’, made up of twelve preserved layers of wallpaper, was removed from the wall of a student room at Peterhouse College at the University of Cambridge. This sandwich, now in the collection of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture at Middlesex University, provides a tangible connection to the temporary domestic spaces created by the students at the college. Unique within the museum’s collections, these wallpapers were chosen, hung and lived with by generation after generation of students. The wallpapers salvaged from this discovery had been hung between 1795 and the twentieth century, and their designs are diverse. Together, these papers provide a microcosmic view of the tastes and domestic priorities of Cambridge students over two hundred years.
  • State of the Field: Material Culture
    dc.title: State of the Field: Material Culture dc.contributor.author: Dyer, Serena dc.description.abstract: This article surveys the state of the field of material culture within the discipline of history. The study of material culture – the myriad layers of cultural meaning embedded within objects – has been adopted by historians from colleagues in anthropology, archaeology and museum studies, and continues to thrive as an interdisciplinary field in tandem with art history and literary studies. As inventive digital and embodied methodologies within material culture begin to shape the future of the field, this article takes the opportunity to reflect upon the opportunities and impediments presented to scholars of material culture. It elucidates the diverse and often unfamiliar vernaculars of material objects, and reflects upon future directions in the study of material culture. dc.description: open access article
  • Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the 18th Century
    dc.title: Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the 18th Century dc.contributor.author: Dyer, Serena dc.description.abstract: Eighteenth-century women told their life stories through making. With its compelling stories of women's material experiences and practices, Material Lives offers a new perspective on eighteenth-century production and consumption. Genteel women's making has traditionally been seen as decorative, trivial and superficial. Yet their material archives, forged through fabric samples, watercolours, dressed prints and dolls' garments, reveal how women used the material culture of making to record and navigate their lives. Material Lives positions women as 'makers' in a consumer society. Through fragments of fabric and paper, Dyer explores an innovative way of accessing the lives of otherwise obscured women. For researchers and students of material culture, dress history, consumption, gender and women's history, it offers a rich resource to illuminate the power of needles, paintbrushes and scissors. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. Chapter one is available via open access
  • Material Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Britain: A Nation of Makers
    dc.title: Material Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Britain: A Nation of Makers dc.contributor.author: Dyer, Serena dc.description.abstract: The eighteenth century has been hailed for its revolution in consumer culture, but Material Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Britain repositions Britain as a nation of makers. It brings new attention to eighteenth-century craftswomen and men with its focus on the material knowledge possessed not only by professional artisans and amateur makers, but also by skilled consumers. This edited collection gathers together a group of interdisciplinary scholars working in the fields of art history, history, literature, and museum studies to unearth the tactile and tacit knowledge that underpinned fashion, tailoring, and textile production. It invites us into the workshops, drawing rooms, and backrooms of a broad range of creators, and uncovers how production and tacit knowledge extended beyond the factories and machines which dominate industrial histories. This book illuminates, for the first time, the material literacies learnt, enacted, and understood by British producers and consumers. The skills required for sewing, embroidering, and the textile arts were possessed by a large proportion of the British population: men, women and children, professional and amateur alike. Building on previous studies of shoppers and consumption in the period, as well as narratives of manufacture, these essays document the multiplicity of small producers behind Britain's consumer revolution, reshaping our understanding of the dynamics between making and objects, consumption and production. It demonstrates how material knowledge formed an essential part of daily life for eighteenth-century Britons. Craft technique, practice, and production, the contributors show, constituted forms of tactile languages that joined makers together, whether they produced objects for profit or pleasure.
  • ‘Magnificent as Well as Singular’: Hester Thrale’s Polynesian Court Dress of 1781
    dc.title: ‘Magnificent as Well as Singular’: Hester Thrale’s Polynesian Court Dress of 1781 dc.contributor.author: Dyer, Serena dc.description.abstract: In January 1781, Hester Thrale appeared at the court of George III wearing a court mantua which was at once described by the newspapers as elegant and vulgar. This remarkable gown materialized and anticipated the authorial identity which Thrale would later embody as an author, diarist, and literary hostess. The gown was of Thrale’s own invention, inspired by the Polynesian goods which brought back by Captain James Cook in 1780. This chapter argues that an interrogation of Thrale’s sartorial self-authorship can shed light on the literary authorial identity she would later construct. It focuses on the materiality and reception of Thrale’s 1781 court gown and considers the parallels between Thrale’s gown and her writing.

Research interests/expertise

Material Culture, Dress History, Consumption, Shopping, Retail, Nationhood and Britishness, Women's History

Areas of teaching

Fashion History, Material Culture, Women's History, History of Consumption


PhD: History, University of Warwick, 2012-2016
MA: Eighteenth Century Studies, University of York, 2011-2012
BA (Hons): History and History of Art, University of York, 2008-2011

Courses taught

Design Cultures, MA History

Membership of external committees

Textile History, 2018-Present, Exhibition Reviews Editor.
William Morris Society, 2017-2018, Trustee.
British Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 2016-2017, Fine Art Reviews Editor, Criticks.
Association of Art Historians Postgraduate and Early Career Committee, 2013-2015, Treasurer.

Membership of professional associations and societies



Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the Eighteenth Century

Structured around the material archives left by four genteel women, my first monograph (published by Bloomsbury in 2021), Material Lives, reveals the strategies employed by consumers to manage and express their lives through material culture. The volume focuses on four material biographies: Barbara Johnson’s album of fabric samples, Ann Frankland Lewis’s ‘dress of the year’ watercolours, Laetitia Powell’s doll-sized versions of her own garments, and Sabine Winn’s adorned prints. Approached as forms of life-writing, the material narratives constructed by these women reveal the gendered material strategies used to negotiate and record their interactions with the increasingly sophisticated world of goods. These women engaged with the material culture of making as a means of recording and navigating their lives, articulating their own biographical narratives through material ego-documents.


Labour of the Stitch: Making and Remaking Women’s Fashionable Dress in Georgian England

The making of fashionable women’s dress in Georgian England necessitated an inordinate amount of manual labour. From the mantua-makers and seamstresses who wrought lengths of silk and linen into garments, to the artists and engravers who disseminated and immortalised the resulting outfits in print and on paper, Georgian garments were the products of many busy hands. The Labour of the Stitch centres the sartorial hand as a point of connection across the industries which generated fashionable dress in the eighteenth century. In doing so, this volume considers the symbiotic linkages between paper and textiles in the generation of cultures of fashionable dress, as elucidated by the manual labour of the hand.

Central to retrieving histories of manual labour are recreation methodologies. The embodied turn often positions finished garments on the body. Scholars in this field have focussed on the shaping of the torso or the holistic wearing of dress. The Labour of the Stitch brings together contemporary discussions of manual labour with recreation methodologies to explore how hands enacted the creation of dress. This process of recreation illuminates the depth of material literacy and skill required of garment makers, as well as the efficiency, competence, and productivity of the sewing hand.

 Crucially, this volume interrogates the ways in which we think about dress within eighteenth-century studies and suggests that the practice-based approaches found in recreation methodologies can enrich the already interdisciplinary nature of the field. The labour of stitching, along with the labour of writing, printmaking, drawing, and painting, composed a holistic culture of making and manual labour which constructed eighteenth-century cultures of dress.

Conference attendance


‘Fashionable 1760s Dress’, invited roundtable contribution, Historical Fragments: Making, Breaking, and Remaking, University of Edinburgh (19th May 2023).


‘Sartorial Timekeeping: Fashion Chronologies and the Making of Dress Histories’, invited paper given at the History Seminar Series, De Montfort University (26th January 2022).

‘The Making, Meaning and Materiality of the Dressed Print in Europe, 1750-1820’, invited paper given at Gestes d'images online seminar series at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris, France (20th January 2022).


‘Sartorial Chronology and Fashionable Anachronism: Historicism, Temporality and the Making of Dress Histories’, paper given at the Sartorial Society Series (29th July 2021).

‘Making and Women’s Material Life Writing’, invited talk given at the Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia (14th July 2021).

‘“Well regulate your Cash; to Trade attend”: The consumer as the arbiter of the moral economy’, invited paper given at Economic Justice in Early Modern Europe (1450-1850): Commemorating Fifty Years of E. P. Thompson’s ‘Moral Economy’, University of Warwick (20th May 2021).

‘Dress of the Year: Ann Frankland Lewis’s Sartorial Timekeeping’, invited paper given at From Fibre to Frock, Southern Counties Costume Society AGM (27th February 2021).

‘“Be-Nelsoned all over”: Patriotic Fashion, Anchor Accessories, and the Commemoration of the Battle of the Nile’, paper given at the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Conference (6th January 2021).


‘Fashions in Miniature: Laetitia Powell’s Dolls and Material Life-Writing’, invited paper given at Digital Materialities online seminar series at the University of Paris (14th December 2020).

‘Mr Calico and Mr Fribble: Queering the Man-Milliner, 1770-1820’, paper given at New Directions in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Art online seminar (19th October 2020).

Keynote Speaker at Fast x Slow Fashion: Experiences of Fashionable Consumption, 1720-2020, Leeds City Museum and the University of Leeds (13th March 2020).

Current research students

Jordan Mitchell-King, Undress: Informal Women’s Clothing in Eighteenth-Century Britain, 2021-Present, first supervisor with Dr Kate Smith, University of Birmingham (M4C/AHRC full scholarship).

Catarina Ferriera, The Mass-Production of the Corset in the 19th Century, first supervisor with Prof. Elizabeth Lambourn (DMU Full Scholarship).

Sharon Howe, Lace Revivals: From occupation to pastime, 1890-1980, first supervisor, 2022-Present.

Alice Payne, ‘[M]ost certainly not waiting’: Reconstructing Circe and Penelope in Female-Authored Adaptations of Homer’s The Odyssey, 2019-Present, second supervisor with Professor Deborah Cartmell (DMU Full Scholarship).

Diya Wang, Hybridity and Transformation in Dress and Fashion between China and the West, 1840-1930, 2021-Present, second supervisor with Dr Emily Baines.

Externally funded research grants information

- AHRC, Networking Grant, awarded for Making Historical Dress: Hands, Bodies and Methods, PI (Co-I Dr Sarah Bendall, Australian Catholic University), £44,835.

- AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinker, shortlisted.

- Future Research Leader, DMU, £1,500.

- Pasold Research Fund, Major Project Grant, awarded for the Sartorial Society Series online research seminars, Co-I with Dr Bethan Bide, Dr Elisabeth Gernerd, Dr Liz Tregenza and Dr Lucie Whitmore, £1,648.

- Pasold Research Fund, Publication Award, £900.

- Patterns of British Manufacture: Nationhood and Textiles in Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, 1809-1829, Pasold Research Fund Research Activity Grant, 2018-2019, £500, PI.

- Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the Eighteenth Century, Postdoctoral Fellowship, Paul Mellon Centre, £8000, 2018-2019, PI.

- Trained to Consume: Dress and the Female Consumer, 1720-1820, British Federation of Women Graduates, Marjorie Shaw Scholarship, £2,000, 2015-2016 PI.

- Trained to Consume: Dress and the Female Consumer, 1720-1820, ESRC, PhD Scholarship, £55,000, 2012-2015.

Public Engagement


2022  Guest Curator, ‘Fashion’ in Take This Token, online exhibition, Foundling Museum.

2022  Specialist Consultant, Crown to Couture, exhibition at Kensington Palace, Historic Royal Palaces.

2020  Specialist Consultant, Miniature Worlds, exhibition at Nostell Priory, National Trust.

2018  Curator, Katagami in the Art School, exhibition at Seika University, Japan (August 2018) and Asia House, London (April 2018).

2011  Assistant Curator, Revolutionary Fashion, 1790-1820, exhibition at Fairfax House, York.

Podcasts, Media and TV Presenting, Appearances, and Advisory Work

2023  Guest on BBC Radio 3, Free Thinking, ‘Tin cans, cutlery and sewing’, 28th February 2023.

2023  Guest on NPR (US public radio), 13th February 2023, discussion of maternity wear.

2022  Presenter, Fashion Through History, 3-part series (Immediate Media/English Heritage).

2022  Historical Advisor, There Exists (BFI/Studio ANRK).

2022  Guest on BBC Radio Berkshire, 19th March 2022, discussion of suits.

2022  Guest on BBC Radio Berkshire, 6th March 2022, discussion of handbags.

2021  Guest on BBC Radio CWR, 16th April 2021, discussion of royal mourning fashions.

2021  Presenter, Travelling Sisterhood of Art Historians podcast, series 1.

2021  Guest on Coping in Confinement podcast, series 1, episode 2.

2021  Guest on BBC Radio Essex, 8th February 2021, discussion of corsets in Netflix series Bridgerton.

2021  Guest on BBC Radio Solent, 8th February 2021, discussion of buying British.

2020  Guest on BBC Radio Leicester, 4th October 2020, discussion of lockdown fashion.

2020  Guest on Sew What? podcast, series 1, episode 14.

2020  Guest on History Hack podcast, episode 193.

2020  On screen expert on Miniature Worlds, National Trust.

2019  On screen expert on An American Aristocrat’s Guide to Great Houses, Nutshell TV/Smithsonian.

2013  Podcasts for the Early Modern Forum, 1450-1850, University of Warwick.

2010  Historical Consultant, Turn Back Time: The High Street, BBC/Wall to Wall.