What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Any Ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits without any incumberance.”
Richard Norris, “STAY-MAKER, from LONDON,” made a variety of appeals to prospective customers in an advertisement he inserted in the January 11, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. When it came to making stays (corsets) and other garments, he promised high quality (“the neatest and best manner”) and low prices (“the most reasonable rates”). He proclaimed the superiority of his work compared to local competitors, stating that his stays were “preferable to any done in these parts, for neatness and true fitting.”
Norris developed two appeals in even greater detail. In one, he emphasized his London origins and continuing connections to the empire’s largest city. Despite political tensions between Parliament and the colonies, London remained the metropolitan center of fashion. Norris assured prospective clients that “he acquires the first fashions of the court of London, by a correspondent settled there.” Although the staymaker had migrated to the colonies, he maintained access to the latest styles in the most cosmopolitan of cities in the British Atlantic world. He also underscored that he constructed stays according to “methods approved of by the society of stay-makers, in London,” implying that his training and experience in that city ranked him above any of his rivals in New York.
While most of these appeals focused on Norris and his abilities, the other strategy that he developed in greater detail targeted female readers of the New-York Journal. He attempted to incite demand for his services by prompting women to feel “uneasy in their shapes.” He made a special point of exhorting “young ladies and growing misses” to question whether they were “inclin’d to casts and risings in their hips and shoulders,” compelling them to imagine that their bodies were misshapen. Young women could hide such imperfections from observers by wearing the stays that Norris made and sold, even though they would retain the knowledge that there was supposedly something wrong or undesirable about their bodies. In eighteenth-century America, quite like today, advertisers often relied on provoking anxieties among consumers, especially young women, and offering to reduce those anxieties as a means of promoting their products.