What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“TOUT A LA MODE.”
George Lafong introduced himself to the ladies and gentlemen of Williamsburg as a “French HAIR-DRESSER” in an advertisement in the September 6, 1770, edition of William Rind’s Virginia Gazette. Apparently, he was new in town and had not yet established a clientele; he announced that he “intends carrying on the said business.” He also made two familiar marketing appeals, though he put a twist on the second one when he proclaimed that he styled hair “in the cheapest manner, & TOUT A LA MODE.” The hairdresser concluded by inviting “Gentlemen who may please to honour him with their commands” to come to him for shaving.
Extending only eight lines, it was a brief advertisement, but Lafong managed to pack a lot of meaning into it. Throughout the colonies, newcomers often noted their origins in their advertisements, especially when they thought this signaled greater prestige for their wares or services. Artisans often described themselves as “from London,” suggesting that they possessed greater skill and had better training. Apothecaries and others who provided medical treatments and services also emphasized their connections to London and other places on the other side of the Atlantic, often listing their credentials. For hairdressers, being from London hinted at the cosmopolitanism associated with the thriving metropolis at the center of the empire, but being a “French HAIR-DRESSER” may have been even better since even the genteel denizens of London looked to France for fashion cues. Hiring a French hairdresser in colonial Virginia could have been an expensive luxury reserved for the elite, but Lafong declared that his prices were not exorbitant. His clients could have their hair elegantly styled and adorned “in the cheapest manner.” Hiring a French hairdresser at all alluded to exclusivity, but the newcomer did not seek to become so exclusive that he priced himself out of the market. He also put his own spin on familiar marketing appeals that emphasized fashion. Shopkeepers, tailors, milliners, and others who provided consumer goods and services frequently incorporated fashion into their advertisements. Lafong did so as well, trumpeting that he styled hair “TOUT A LA MODE” or “all in fashion.” This appeal simultaneously underscored his identity as a French hairdresser and enhanced the aura of exclusivity for prospective clients who learned French to appear more genteel to their friends and neighbors.
Upon arriving in Virginia, Lafong placed a savvy advertisement intended to cultivate a clientele among the “Ladies and Gentlemen” of Williamsburg. Incorporating several familiar marketing appeals, he also introduced an innovative means of underscoring his origins as a “French HAIR-DRESSER” by making his appeal to fashion in French rather than English.