What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The whole are made from Patterns of the newest Fashion.”
Last week I argued that when Stephen Hardy introduced himself as “TAYLOR from LONDON” that he suggested to potential customers that they could depend on him to outfit them in the latest fashions from the cosmopolitan center of the British Empire. Joseph Beck, “STAYMAKER, from LONDON,” deployed the same strategy, though he did so much more explicitly. Rather than expect readers to make the connection on their own, he stated that the stays (eighteenth-century undergarments similar to corsets) he made were of a fashion “now preferred by Ladies of the first Distinction in London.”
An ocean separated Beck and other New Yorkers from London, but the staymaker assured potential customers that all of his wares were “made from Patterns of the newest Fashion.” This was possible because he remained in contact with others who pursued his occupation in the empire’s largest city: the patterns were “constantly sent him by some of the most eminent Staymakers in London.” Beck had connections. Those connections gave him access to the latest fashions and, in turn, gave cachet to the stays he made and sold.
After establishing that his stays were quite fashionable, Beck made an interesting pivot. He combined a “Buy American” appeal with his promises of London cosmopolitanism. Not only did he sell his stays at a lower price than those imported from England, since they were “made in this City, and the Stuff mostly of the Product of America, it’s hoped the Ladies will give the Preference on that Account.”
American colonists did not smoothly break away from Britain, politically, economically, or culturally. Beck’s advertisement transmitted competing messages about the economic independence of the colonies while shoring up British identity and fashion.