Wear and Tear: Life Stories and Sartorial Experiences in the First World War




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Edinburgh University Press



Peer reviewed



During the First World War, 1914–1918, the British Army uniform provided an important tool in the transition from civilian to soldier and a symbol of a mass collective identity. However, soldier writings from the war and post-war years reveal the more individual experiences of their uniforms and the intimate relationships that formed between their physicality and the materiality of the garment. Focusing on the uniform experiences of British servicemen during the First World War, this article explores the narratives recorded in soldier correspondence, diaries and life writing to discover how men, despite wearing military uniform, continued to express the sartorial identities and practices developed as civilians. The uniform was central to soldiers’ physicality and their writings show that the materiality of the uniform became a conduit for their sensory and haptic experiences of the landscape around them. Yet the uniform remained only a temporary sartorial shift and, underneath, civilian identities and sensibilities remained resolute. Evidence of sartorial interventions and personalization expose the attempts to ameliorate the fit and feel of the uniform. Shining a light on these narratives of the uniform on a more personal and affective level challenges us to reconsider the boundaries between uniformity and individuality.


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.


First World War, uniforms, sartorial identities, personalization, sartorial literacy, object biographies


Neal, R. (2024) Wear and Tear: Life Stories and Sartorial Experiences in the First World War. Costume. 58 (1), pp.48-70. DOI: 10.3366/cost.2024.0286


Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales

Research Institute

Institute of Art and Design