October 23

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 23, 1770).

“The newest and most fashionable Taste.”

In the fall of 1770, John Brown, a hairdresser, informed “the Ladies in particular” and “the Gentlemen” as well as that he had set up shop in Charleston.  In an advertisement that ran in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he announced that he had “Just arrived from LONDON.”  This was a common marketing strategy among advertisers from a variety of occupations, from doctors to artisans to tailors to hairdressers.  They listed their place of origin as part of their credentials, suggesting to colonists that those who had trained and worked in the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire possessed greater skill and a better understanding of taste and fashion than their counterparts from the colonies.

Brown stated that he “was regularly bred to the Business,” invoking a common phrase that indicated extensive training, but he also made the claim to superior circumstances more explicit by clarifying that he learned his trade “in one of the genteelest Shops in London.”  Unlike other hairdressers in Charleston, Brown had not yet established a reputation among current and prospective clients.  As an alternative, he used his connections to the urban sophistication of London to encourage residents of Charleston to associate additional cachet with his services.

Brown also emphasized his recent arrival in South Carolina.  Many advertisers deployed the phrase “from London” in their notices, some after living and working in the colonies for years.  That made it significant for Brown to proclaim that he “Just arrived from LONDON.”  His experience working in one of those “genteelest Shops” was recent.  He possessed a familiarity with tastes and trends in the metropole that was current.  Other hairdressers relied on travelers and correspondents to keep them apprised of new styles, but Brown brought that knowledge with him when he crossed the Atlantic and set up his own shop in Charleston.  He pledged to dress hair according to “the newest and most fashionable Taste,” a common appeal that had greater resonance when deployed by a coiffeur who had “Just arrived from LONDON.”

May 18

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

May 18 - 5:18:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (May 18, 1767).

“Cloaths, after the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.”

George Senneff adopted a marketing strategy commonly deployed by tailors and other artisans. To imbue his services with extra cachet, he included his origins in his introduction: “George Senneff, Taylor, from LONDON.” Colonists were preoccupied with the latest trends in England, especially London, when it came to both dress and adorning private and public spaces. They experienced anxiety that they might appear pretenders in provincial backwaters as they participated in transatlantic consumer culture that changed increasingly rapidly as the eighteenth century progressed. Tailors and others in the clothing trades, as well as hairdressers and cabinetmakers, offered reassurances that their goods and services were à la mode when they asserted their connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire.

Many considered announcing that they were “from LONDON” sufficient for the purpose, but Senneff treated that merely as an opening salvo in his bid to win clients concerned about wearing the latest fashions and demonstrating their awareness of the most current trends. Not only was he “from LONDON,” Senneff proclaimed that he made men’s garments of “plain and lac’d Cloaths, after the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.” He reiterated this claim when he described the riding habits he made for women: “after the newest Fashions now worn in London.” Senneff had his finger on the pulse of changing tastes in the metropole. In turn, his clients in New York would exhibit that insider’s knowledge in their attire as they attended to business and socialized in the colonial outpost.

Senneff’s decision to repeatedly state that his garments conformed to “the newest Fashions now worn in London” may not have merely reassured customers. Instead, such intensive focus on the latest styles in that faraway city could have stoked anxiety among local consumers. Repetitively invoking current tastes in London may have prompted some potential customers to dwell on this aspect of their own apparel, encouraging them to seek out Senneff’s services since he seemed to be in the know and could provide appropriate guidance in outfitting them “after the newest and genteelest Taste.” Senneff craftily induced such uneasiness and simultaneously offered his services as an especially effective way to experience relief. His notice was no mere announcement but rather a clever attempt to manipulate potential customers into visiting his shop.