What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Acquaints the LADIES, That he has just received … A great Variety of Articles of the latest Fashions.”
When William Gale received a new shipment of goods from London in the spring of 1772, he placed advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette to alert prospective customers. He declared that he stocked a “great Variety of Articles of the latest Fashions” that he would sell “very cheap, at his Shop opposite the Post Office.” Unlike most of his competitors who carried similar goods and placed newspapers notices, Gale targeted women as consumers, suggesting that they had greater interest in fashion than their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. He opened his advertisement with an assertion that he “Respectfully acquaints the LADIES” that he had new inventory. To demonstrate the choices available to them, he then provided a list that began with a “Large assortment of Ladies newest fashion London-made dress gauze and lace bonnets.” He underscored fashion elsewhere in his catalog of goods, including “newest-fashion bonnets” and “white, sky-blue, and rose sattins, the newest fashions.”
Gale was not the only advertiser to single out women as consumers. In the May 11, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette, Isaac Greenwood advertised “UMBRILLOES” that he made at his shop in the North End. He advised that “Ladies may be supplied with all Sizes, so small as to suit Misses of 4 or 5 Years of Age.” Although he eventually mentioned that he supplied “Oyl Cloth … for Men,” the woodcut of a woman holding an umbrella that adorned his advertisement made clear that he considered women and girls his primary customers for such an exotic and fashionable product.
Other advertisers did not place the same emphasis on women as consumers. Elsewhere in the same issue, William Beatty addressed “his Friends and the Publick.” Jonathan Williams, Jr., extended his “grateful Acknowledgments to those Persons who have favoured him with their Custom during the past Season” and invited “his Friends and the Public” to examine his new merchandise. Samuel Abbot and Company made overtures to “their Town and Country Customers.”
In stark contrast to Gale’s advertisement, John Maud, a tailor, offered his services to “the Gentlemen who are his Customers, and others.” In promoting his business, he stated that he had “some of the newest Patterns” and boasted that “no one can finish, or cut Cloaths with greater Elegance and Taste.” Yet he also suggested that neither he nor his customers were interested in fashion solely for its own sake. Maud reported that he was “well used to” making “Regimental Clothing, and Navy Uniforms” since he had been “employed these many Years by the Gentlemen of the Army and Navy.” Such garments had a purpose beyond mere fashion, even if the men who wore them took pride in their appearance.
Gale and Greenwood focused on female customers, while Maud cultivated a male clientele. Most advertisers, however, did not gender their goods and services nor fashion and consumption more generally, even though essays and editorials in the public prints usually asserted that shopping was a feminine vice. Most encouraged widespread participation in the marketplace, even as a few thought that they might generate more sales by targeting women or, less frequently, men.