January 24

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

Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 21, 1773).
“He likewise makes Head Dresses for Ladies, so natural as not to be distinguished by the most curious Eye.”

George Lafong described himself as a “Hair Cutter and Dresser” in an advertisement he placed in the January 21, 1773, edition of the Virginia Gazette.  He aimed to generate business by suggesting that he already served a satisfied clientele, extending his “humble Thanks to such Ladies and Gentlemen as have been pleased to honour him with their Commands.”  In addition, he invited new clients to engage his services.

Lafong deployed several appeals in his efforts to convince residents of Williamsburg and nearby towns to hire him.  For instance, he did not require that clients visit his shop.  Instead, they could schedule appointments in advance “by giving timely Notice” and the hairdresser traveled to their homes and “waited upon [them] at any Distance from Town.”  He did not charge exorbitant prices, but instead set “very reasonable Terms” for such excursions.

In addition, Lafong promoted an associate that he recently hired, reporting that he “has engaged a Man from London who dresses in the newest and most elegant Taste.”  That gave Lafong an advantage over other hairdressers who relied on correspondence to learn about the latest trends in the cosmopolitan center of the empire.  His associate had firsthand knowledge and experience with the latest styles in London.  That advantage transferred to clients; not only did their appearance testify to making good choices in selecting a hairdresser but they could also boast about that hairdresser to friends and acquaintances.

In case that was not enough to convince prospective clients, Lafong also indicated that someone in his shop, either his new associate or Lafong himself, “makes Head Dresses for Ladies, so natural as not to be distinguished by the most curious eye.”  In other words, he created wigs and extensions, such as the popular high roll, that withstood close scrutiny.  Observers would not be able to tell which portions, if any, of his client’s hairstyle was not her actual hair.  Such authenticity helped in projecting grace, elegance, and other genteel attributes.

Fashion found its way to places far removed from London as colonizers participated in a transatlantic consumer revolution in the eighteenth century.  Hairdressers offered their services in major urban ports, like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, while also seeking to generate demand among prospective clients in the countryside “any Distance from Town.”  Fashion, both as a practice and as a motivation, was not confined to early American cities.

September 6

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

Sep 6 - 9:6:1770 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (September 6, 1770).
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.