GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Silk handkerchiefs, cloaks, petticoats.”
After reading through the products being advertised I decided to focus on petticoats because I was somewhat familiar with them, but I did not exactly know what they were. Through my research I learned they were first introduced as undergarments in the 1500s, but they were constantly enlarged over time and eventually replaced by the slip in the 1920s.
Between 1770 and 1776, petticoats were usually made of “dainty colored materials that were filled with a layer of cotton or wadding. The wadding was kept in place by using various patterns of the quilting stitch.” One petticoat from the 1760s in the collections of George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore was made of “peach satin silk with wool batting between the two layers.” In the 1700s, women often wore quilted petticoats under “open-front robes or as stand-alone skirts.” In certain cases quilted petticoats were made to showcase “intricate handiwork in the quilted pattern. Geometric patterns, birds, flowers and even pastoral scenes were all common themes for quilted petticoats.”
Petticoats were a common piece of women’s outfit throughout the colonial period. They could be worn them under other clothing either for fashion or simply for warmth.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
The petticoats in this advertisement were certainly intended for female customers, yet Nathaniel Hayward did not make any particular effort to address the women of Charleston. Women may well have been the primary consumers of many of the textiles and adornments listed in Hayward’s advertisement (though many of the women who purchased those goods would have done so with the intention of making garments and other items for use by men as well as women). Other imported goods in the advertisement – stationery, ironmongery, “saddlery,” and “cabinet ware” – would have appealed to both sexes and the “mens hats” were designated specifically for, well, men.
While it may be tempting to divide the eighteenth-century worlds of production and consumption into male and female pursuits, respectively, especially given the feminization of consumption in later periods, newspaper advertisements from the colonial and Revolutionary eras suggest that early Americans did not necessarily equate consumption almost exclusively with women. Very few eighteenth-century advertisements directly addressed female consumers. Those that did tended to come from advertisers who offered services specifically for women, such as seamstresses who made women’s clothing, but they were balanced by a similar number of advertisements for men’s tailors. Early Americans were more often exposed to advertisements that addressed both women and men as “ladies and gentlemen” or used other language that otherwise made it clear that they sought potential customers of both sexes.
In the 1760s, however, the greatest number of advertisements for consumer goods and services made little effort at all to acknowledge the gender of prospective customers or to make special appeals to one sex rather than the other or to differentiate most merchandise according to the sex. Instead, advertisers generally promoted their wares to all colonists, only occasionally noting that certain goods were appropriate for either women or men (such as the “mens hats” nestled within today’s advertisement). Nathaniel Hayward sold petticoats for women, but he made no effort to suggest only women might be interested in the myriad of textiles he sold. In that regard his approach aligned with most eighteenth-century advertisers who did not make assumptions about the feminization of fashion and consumption. Such views sometimes found voice in editorials in other parts of eighteenth-century newspapers, but advertisements that positioned women as more likely to be consumers than men were relatively rare. That marketing strategy became much more common in the nineteenth century, following the rise of industrialization and the cult of domesticity that made the home the domain of middle-class women.