GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He makes all Sorts of Gentlemen’s Wearing Apparell.”
In this advertisement, “Richard Lowden, Taylor from LONDON, hereby informs the Public, that the Co-Partnership between him and Robert Patterson … was dissolved.” At the end of the advertisement, Lowden reassured “all Persons who favor him … may depend on being faithfully and punctually served”
The role and importance of tailors in colonial and Revolutionary America was different than today. According to Ed Crews, early Americans bought most of their clothing from tailors. Unlike today’s system of buying clothes, early Americans did not simply walk into stores and pick from a range of mass produced styles in predetermined standard sizes. Instead, people from all different social classes bought handmade clothing from tailors. However, tailors still produced different types of clothing for different people. The price varied, mostly dependent on the style and material used by the tailor. In addition, tailors made clothing to exact specifications for each customer.
Tailors played an important role in the everyday lives of all different sorts of Americans in the eighteenth century. According to Crews, even George Washington was self-conscious about what his fashion style represented. In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman further details the political and cultural importance of fashion in Revolutionary America. Colonists were socially self-aware how they dressed reflected their values politically and culturally, furthering supporting the idea that tailors played an important role in colonial life.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
In the process of researching and writing about today’s advertisement, Daniel grappled with a common misconception about clothing production in early America. Many people assume that colonists wore garments primarily produced in the colonies due to the efforts of women who worked at spinning wheels and looms in their homes and then made clothing from the textiles they produced. Such domestic production accounted for some of the clothing worn by colonists, but not all of it. Among the advertisements that filled newspapers in the decades before the Revolution, shopkeepers placed countless notices that listed a vast array of imported textiles and adornments for making clothing. As Daniel notes, tailors, seamstresses, mantuamakers, and others in the clothing trades transformed imported fabrics into garments, frequently advertising their services.
Compared to newspapers published in larger port cities, the New-Hampshire Gazette had less advertising. Still, the choices available to residents of Portsmouth and its hinterland found their way into the public prints. In the same issue that Richard Lowden advertised that he made “neat, cheap, strong and fashionable garments,” shopkeeper John Adams announced that he sold “A General Assortment of English GOODS.” Adams’ inventory almost certainly included textiles that Lowden hoped they would bring to him over “any Taylor in Town.”
Given the tensions and ongoing suspicion of Britain in the wake of the Stamp Act and its repeal, colonists sometimes made a point of opting for homespun fabrics, those produced by women as an alternative to imported English textiles. However, they also had other options. Andrew Nelson, a “WEAVER from SCOTLAND,” placed an advertisement announcing “that he has set up that Business” in Portsmouth. He promised that he “weaves all Sorts of Linnen” that customers could depend on being “equal to any imported.” Whether they acquired textiles from Adams the shopkeeper or Nelson the weaver, readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette likely visited Lowden the tailor or one of his competitors.
Today the process of purchasing clothing has been streamlined for the convenience of consumers. Custom made clothing is not a remnant of the past, but visiting a tailor or seamstress is no longer practically a necessity like it was in colonial and Revolutionary America. Daniel notes that Lowden concluded his advertisement by stating that customers would be “faithfully and punctually served,” a promise that might sound strange to modern consumers. In the eighteenth century, however, it was a means of offering some of the convenience that today consumers barely notice when they select readymade garments off the rack.
 Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 625-662.