Marlis E. Schweitzer

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20052006 Forum on Word and Image

Marlis E. Schweitzer



Transnational Commodity Culture and the Rise of Fashion Nationalism in the United States, 1870—1920

"Fashioning Americans" is a study of how the perceived "invasion" of Paris fashion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries facilitated the development of American national identity as expressed through the bodies of white, middle and upper class women. Scholars working in gender and American studies have recently expanded our understanding of transnational relations by identifying the body as an important contact zone, a place where the foreign and the domestic meet, and where national identities emerge in direct response to and in collaboration with transnational influences. 


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American women continued to act as midwives in the birth of the United States' empire by embodying "Americanness" in art, literature, and public life. The idealized American Girl became an image that could be packaged and sold to Americans to bolster a sense of national identity at home, and used to promote "Americanness" in foreign lands. Yet just as the Unites States military celebrated victories on foreign shores, an altogether different form of international conflict was brewing on domestic soil. American women, those protectors of the home and the nation, were obsessed with Paris fashion and dressed, not in American clothes, but in gowns designed by French 'dilettantes'. More than a site for displaying a unique, foreign commodity then, women's bodies became public stages for dramatizing a collision between the foreign and the domestic, the Old World and the New, France and the United States.