What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He makes jumps and stays … in the newest fashion, either in the English or French manner.”
John Burchet presented himself to consumers in Charleston as a “STAY and MANTUA-MAKER, from LONDON and PARIS.” He established his former places of residence and employment not merely by way of introduction but also to strengthen one of the appeals he advanced in his advertisement. Burchet announced to prospective clients that he made garments “in the newest fashion, either in the English or French manner.” Although he did not elaborate on his time in the English and French capitals, he leveraged the connection to assure customers that they could rely on him to outfit them in “the newest fashion” rather than trends that already declined in popularity. He implied that he had special insight into la mode on the other side of the Atlantic.
Keeping up with the current styles in England and France was important to residents throughout the colonies, but perhaps especially to the gentry and middling sorts aspiring to join their ranks in the largest urban ports. Although the size of Charleston, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia paled in comparison to the metropolis of London, the better sorts in those cities wished to imagine themselves as cosmopolitan as their peers across the ocean. Anxious that they would be seen as backwater provincials, they adopted new fashions – both clothing and housewares – at a speed that often surprised European visitors to the colonies. Some shopkeepers and members of the garments trade emphasized their correspondence with counterparts in England as a means of keeping abreast of the newest trends. Burchet, however, suggested that he offered something even better: why settle for an American staymaker who imitated the styles popular in Europe when it was possible to hire one “from LONDON and PARIS” who had direct knowledge from his time in those cities? This marketing strategy did rely on both the staymaker and the customer suspending their disbelief to some extent. After all, having once lived and worked in London and Paris did not give Burchet immediate access to fashions there. He relied on transatlantic correspondence, just like his competitors. Yet he marshaled the cachet of his origins, prompting clients to imagine visiting his shop for measurements and fittings and ultimately wearing garments made by an artisan “from LONDON and PARIS.” Burchet’s stays and other wares might have yielded the same appearance as those made by others, but his personal narrative added value to the clothing he made.