What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To be sold by JOHN M”QUEEN, At the Sign of the WHITE STAYS.
Staymaker John M”Queen was concerned with fashion – and from start to finish his advertisement suggested that his potential customers should be as well. He opened with a summary of his wares (“A Neat Assortment of Women and Maid’s Stays, the very newest Fashion, directly from London”) and concluded with a reassurance (“all sorts of Stays, in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France”). What is a stay? Colonial Williamsburg offers “A Glossary of Terms” describing women’s clothing in the colonial era: stays were the eighteenth-century version of what became corsets in the nineteenth century, but visit the glossary for a much more complete examination.
New York was one of the largest cities in the colonies in the 1760s, but it was a provincial outpost. M”Queen incited anxieties that residents did not want to be seen as inhabitants of some backwater village. Instead, his advertisement suggests, they wanted full membership in British (and European) fashion and culture. His stays were not merely of the “newest Fashion” in the colonies. Instead, they had arrived “directly from London” and were the same style as those “wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France.” Not just an importer, M”Queen was a staymaker himself, but as he produced stays locally he kept his eyes on changing fashions in London.
As an aside, it is worth mentioning that this advertisement linking consumption and fashion was aimed at female customers, but that should not be misinterpreted as evidence that eighteenth-century women placed more emphasis on fashion than men. Given the nature of the product he marketed, M”Queen addressed women, but advertisements for men’s garments during the period were just as likely to invoke a language of fashion and cosmopolitan connections to European metropolitan centers.