Whitney Walton approaches the nineteenth-century French industrial development from a new perspective—that of consumption. She analyzes the French performance at the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 to illustrate how bourgeois consumers influenced France's distinctive pattern of industrial development. She also demonstrates the importance of consumption and gender in class formation and reveals how women influenced industry in their role as consumers.
Walton examines important consumer goods industries that have been rarely studied by historians, such as the manufacture of wallpaper, furniture, and bronze statues. Using archival sources on household possessions of the Parisian bourgeoisie as well as published works, she shows how consumers' taste for fashionable, artistic, well-made furnishings and apparel promoted a specialization unique to nineteenth-century France.