What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Said M‘Queen, continues his Business as usual, to make all sorts of Stays for Ladies.”
John McQueen pursued multiple branches of the staymaking business at his shop “At the Sign of the Stays … in Smith-Street” in New York. He sold stays (or corsets) recently imported from London, but stated that he made “all sorts of Stays” as well. McQueen described himself as a “Stay-Maker” rather than a shopkeeper, although he also engaged in retailing “every Article for Stay-Makers” to others who practiced the trade. He sold textiles and accessories, like many shopkeepers, but the landmark that identified his shop, “the Sign of the Stays,” testified to his primary occupation and merchandise.
Even though he possessed the skills “to make all sorts of Stays,” McQueen may have considered it necessary to stock and advertise inventory imported from London. In addition to keeping up with demand that might have exceeded the number of garments he could produce in his shop, this also allowed him to assert that customers who purchased his stays could be certain that they made stylish choices that kept with those made by genteel women who resided across the Atlantic in the metropolitan capital of the British empire. McQueen had a habit of concluding his advertisements with declarations that he made stays “in the newest Fashions that is wore in London,” as he did in a nota bene that accompanied today’s advertisement. In an advertisement published nearly a year earlier, he resorted to even more grandiose language, proclaiming that he made stays “in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France, &c. &c.” In that case, he also reported that he imported stays “directly from London.”
Which merchandise comprised the bulk of McQueen’s business? Imported Stays or those he made in his own shop? Either way, he needed to establish some sort of connection – some sort of awareness of – current fashions in London and other cosmopolitan cities in Europe to help move any of his inventory made in his own shop. In the coming years many colonists would increasingly turn to homespun and look askance at goods and styles transported across the Atlantic for England, but for the moment most were still invested in expressing British identity through the Anglicization of the goods they purchased and clothing they wore.