GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Stephen Hardy, Taylor from London.”
This advertisement starts off with the words: “Stephen Hardy, Taylor from London.” It originally caught my attention because it mentioned a specific line of products. Many newspaper advertisements were from the equivalent of general stores, shops where a variety of goods — from agricultural tools to alcohol to handkerchiefs — could be purchased. Yet this one is an advertisement for a very specific line of goods and services. Hardy “Makes Gentlemens Cloaths of all sorts” and “He has just Imported A variety of Remnants of Cloth.” The advertisement made me curious about clothing and fashions in Colonial America. I looked at the different terms used in the advertisement, including “Breeches,” “Ladies Riding Habets,” and “strip’d Linnen.”
Those lines got me thinking about what the everyday wear for colonists was and how clothing was important to colonial society. Even in the modern day, clothing can be interpreted as a symbol of socioeconomic status. This also proved true for the 1700s. Typically men of the middle to upper class wore breeches and shirt, not necessarily with a jacket nor necessarily of a matching pattern. Women’s fashions varied with social class in regard to fabric and style.
In addition, another thing very important to note about clothing and fashion during this time was the complex etiquette associated with clothes. There was a specific protocol, especially with the social elite, about what was acceptable in informal and formal situations. There were informal everyday garments, the “undress,” and formal garments, the “dress” clothing. In addition different accessories and fabrics were included in this silent protocol. A consumer from the upper classes who read the advertisement would know right away which things were appropriate for everyday use and what needed to be worn. These choices would not only appease their peers but showcase to the others that they enjoyed a privileged social position. This idea of social status and acting in a way that befits one’s station was an important component of early American society. Understanding colonial clothing helps modern day people understand colonial society overall.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Given the size of Portsmouth relative to other colonial cities, the New-Hampshire Gazette published fewer advertisements than newspapers from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. In any of those urban ports, Stephen Hardy’s advertisement would have competed with several others that offered similar goods and services. In the October 24, 1766, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, only one other advertisement bore any sort of resemblance to Hardy’s notice. Samuel Cutts promoted an array of imported textiles, but also listed “All sorts of Nails; Frying Pans; Shovels and Tongs, &c. &c. &c. &c.”
Hardy and Cutts certainly competed for some of the same customers, but several aspects of Hardy’s advertisement suggest that he enticed Portsmouth’s more genteel consumers (or those who aspired to gentility). Perhaps most significantly, Hardy, a “Taylor from London,” offered services to accompany the goods he sold. He not only imported textiles but also “punctually served” his clients who visited him to have “Gentlemens Cloaths of all sorts” and “Ladies Riding Habets” made to specification. Cutts, on the other hand, sold textiles but did not assist customers in transforming them into finished apparel. Cutts did sell pins and sewing needles so his customers could make their own clothing out of the fabrics they purchased from him.
In listing his occupation as a “Taylor” rather than a shopkeeper, Hardy also underscored that he was “from London.” He did not indicate how recently he had migrated to the colonies (though many readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have known approximately how long he had resided in Portsmouth), but listing his origins affiliated him with the Britain’s largest city and the cosmopolitan center of the empire. By implication, his textiles and the clothing he made from them aligned with the latest fashions of the transatlantic elite.
Hardy also addressed his prospective clients as gentlemen and ladies, suggesting the status of those who visited his shop. When customers did call on Hardy they found themselves surrounded with fine textiles and adornments, rather than the diversity of qualities (or the hardware and housewares) listed in Cutts’ advertisement. As Megan notes, Hardy specialized in his trade; the inventory in his advertisement and shop reflected his work as a tailor rather than a shopkeeper.