The Women Who Influenced French Fashion
- Winner of the Pasold Fund Publication Grant
- Shortlisted for the Association of Dress Historians Book of the Year, 2022
- Winner of Aileen Ribeiro Grant from the Association of Dress Historians
- Winner of the Victorian Society in America Book Award, 2022
296 pp., 7 x 9 in, 71 color illus., 19 b&w illus.
- Published: October 19, 2021
- Published: October 19, 2021
How wealthy American women—as consumers and as influencers—helped shape French couture of the late nineteenth century; lavishly illustrated.
French fashion of the late nineteenth century is known for its allure, its ineffable chic—think of John Singer Sargent's Madame X and her scandalously slipping strap. For Parisian couturiers and their U.S. customers, it was also serious business. In Dressing Up, Elizabeth Block examines the couturiers' influential clientele—wealthy women in the United States who bolstered the French fashion industry with a steady stream of orders. Countering the usual narrative of the designer as solo creative genius, Block shows that these women—as high-volume customers and as pre-Internet influencers—were active participants in the era's transnational fashion system.
Block describes the arrival of the U. S. nouveaux riches on the French fashion scene, joining European royalty, French socialites, and famous actresses on the client rosters of the best fashion houses—Charles Frederick Worth, Doucet, and Félix, among others. She considers the mutual dependence of couture and coiffure; the participation of couturiers in international expositions (with mixed financial results); the distinctive shopping practices of U.S. women, which ranged from extensive transatlantic travel to quick trips downtown to the department store; the performance of conspicuous consumption at balls and soirées; the impact of U.S. tariffs on the French fashion industry; and the emergence of smuggling, theft, and illicit copying of French fashions in the American market as the middle class emulated the preferences of the wealthy. Lavishly illustrated, with vibrant images of dresses, portraits, and fashion plates, Dressing Up reveals the power of U.S. women in French couture.
Winner of the Aileen Ribeiro Grant of the Association of Dress Historians, an Association for Art History grant, and a Pasold Research Fund grant.
“Block takes the study of nineteenth-century French fashion and its consumers to a new level with her keen synthesis of an impressive group of sources.”
Pamela A. Parmal, Chair and Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts Emerita, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
“A long-overdue study of maison Félix, nuanced critique of the relationship between the Parisian haute couture and coiffure industries, new reading of the assertive role of U.S. clients and the architectural spaces they occupied, and detailed interpretation of fashion at the 1900 Paris Exposition are among many reasons this meticulously researched and beautifully written book makes a major contribution to late nineteenth-century fashion studies.”
Amy de la Haye, Professor of Dress History & Curatorship, London College of Fashion
"This handsomely illustrated, anecdotal volume illuminates the symbiotic relationship between late-19th-century Parisian fashion houses and their well-to-do American clients. Block, a senior editor for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's publication department, writes winningly."
"Like The Gilded Age, Elizabeth L. Block's Dressing Up puts the women of the era—and their dresses—at the center of its narrative. Block's new book frames the wealthy elites who shaped the Gilded Age economy, culture, and politics as consumers, and focuses on the wives and daughters of elite businessmen and financiers. Such an emphasis allows Block not only to insert women and women's agency more meaningfully into Gilded Age history, but also to explore the economic consequences of the fashion trade. In Block's narrative, elite women were more than a passive manifestation of Thorstein Veblen's 'conspicuous consumption.' They were active players in a transatlantic network of commerce, power, and privilege that allowed them a position of influence within U.S. society by turning fashion and the dresses they wore into cultural capital."