Gilded Age Influencers: American Women and French Fashion | Choose Chicago

Gilded Age Influencers: American Women and French Fashion | Choose Chicago

French fashion of the late nineteenth century is known for its allure and 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.

Inspired by the return of HBO’s The Gilded Age this fall, art historian Elizabeth Block will describe the wealthy Gilded Age American women who bolstered the French fashion industry with a steady stream of orders. Countering the usual narrative of the designer as solo creative genius, you will hear how these women—as high-volume customers and as pre-Internet influencers—were active participants in the era’s transnational fashion system.

About the Speaker

Elizabeth L. Block, an art historian, is Senior Editor in the Publications and Editorial Department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her book Dressing Up: The Women Who Influenced French Fashion was published by MIT Press. It is the winner of the Victorian Society in America book award 2022, and was shortlisted for the Association of Dress Historians 2022 Book of the Year.

Dr. Block’s next book, Beyond Vanity: The History and Power of Hairdressing, will be published by MIT Press in fall 2024.

Her articles appear in American ArtNineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, West 86thTown & Country, and Slate. She provides interviews for BBC News and BBC Woman’s Hour, and multiple podcasts. She speaks widely at private and public venues.

Dr. Block earned her PhD in art history at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, with a focus on 19th-century U.S. painting. She also holds an MA in American Studies from Columbia University, and a BA in English and Art History from The George Washington University.

Image credit: Jules Chéret (French, 1836–1932). Grands magasins de la Paix, Paris, 1879. Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

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