Dressing Up: The Women Who Influenced French Fashion


How wealthy American women– as consumers and as influencers– helped shape French couture of the late nineteenth century.

Lavishly illustrated, with vibrant images of dresses, portraits, and fashion plates, Dressing Up reveals the power of American 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.


This book is a part of our By the Book Author Series. Join us virtually June 2 @ 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm to explore even more.

Hardcover; 296 pages

Published 2021

3 in stock (can be backordered)


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 American customers, it was also serious business. In Dressing Up, Elizabeth Block examines the couturiers’ influential clientele–wealthy American women who bolstered the French fashion industry with a steady stream of orders from the United States. 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 nouveau riche Americans 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 American 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 American 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 rich. Lavishly illustrated, with vibrant images of dresses, portraits, and fashion plates, Dressing Up reveals the power of American women in French couture.

Praise for Dressing Up

“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.”
the 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

About the Author

Elizabeth L. Block, an art historian, is Senior Editor in the Publications and Editorial Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She has contributed to publications including American Art and West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture.

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