Explore & Learn
home   ·   online exhibits   ·   pic of the month
pic archive  

Elizabeth Parke Firestone

March 2002


On March 14, The Henry Ford will open the first of three exhibits showcasing the high-style clothing of Elizabeth Parke Firestone (1897-1990). Elizabeth Firestone, wife of Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., son of the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, acquired extraordinary clothing between 1915 and 1975. Mrs. Firestone's family donated to The Henry Ford hundreds of items, including many complete outfits and hundreds of accessories. This gift constituted the institution's first major acquisition of couture clothing. More...


This exhibit, entitled "Fabulous in the Fifties: The Clothing of Elizabeth Parke Firestone," includes six dresses worn by Mrs. Firestone in the 1950s. In the 1950s, when Elizabeth Firestone was in her 50s, she was regarded as one of America's best-dressed women. This will be the inaugural exhibit within the brand-new Benson Ford Research Center's exhibition gallery and will remain on view until mid-August, 2002.

What is Couture Clothing?

Most of us purchase "ready to wear" clothing, designed to be mass-produced in standard sizes. Couture clothing, on the other hand, is specially ordered and made to fit the specific taste and physical requirements of a client. A designer, or couturier, designs a garment with a particular, ideal artistic vision in mind. Then, various designers and fitters within the couture house ensure that the fashion is produced in fabrics and colors preferred by the purchaser. The clothing is then carefully tailored to fit the client perfectly.

The Process

Mrs. Firestone did not always sail to Paris in the 1950s to obtain her Dior and Balenciaga gowns. Instead, the couturiers assigned a vendeuse to Mrs. Firestone's account. This vendeuse was the couturier's saleswoman who worked within the company to procure all of Mrs. Firestone's dresses. The vendeuse sent Mrs. Firestone sketches, or perhaps photographs, of dresses that might be to her liking, soliticing input from Mrs. Firestone, regarding her fabric preferences. In addition, the vendeuse worked tirelessly with the workroom to ensure that the dress would fit Mrs. Firestone perfectly. Occasionally, instead of fitting Mrs. Firestone in the dress in person, the House of Balenciaga fit the dresses on a dress form constructed to Mrs. Firestone's measurements. The completed dress was then shipped to her in America without ever having been fit on the real Mrs. Firestone! The vendeuse would handle any problems with fit or repair. Of course, the client was always accommodated. Today, when we see the couturier's label inside their beautiful creations, we think about all the work that went into the creation of the garment. The couture house worked hard for its money

-- Nancy E. V. Bryk, Curator

· Dior dress and the Museum clothing collection

print version

Copyright © The Henry Ford  ~  http://www.TheHenryFord.org