Dressing Up

Dressing Up

The Women Who Influenced French Fashion

By Elizabeth L. Block

How wealthy American women—as consumers and as influencers—helped shape French couture of the late nineteenth century; lavishly illustrated.





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.


$34.95 T ISBN: 9780262045841 296 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 71 color illus., 19 b&w illus.


  • "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."

    Michael Dirda

    Washington Post


  • “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


  • Winner of the Pasold Fund Publication Grant
  • Winner of Aileen Ribeiro Grant from the Association of Dress Historians
  • Winner of the Victorian Society in America Book Award, 2022