September 9

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

Boston Evening-Post (September 9, 1771).

“He has invented an HAIR-ROLL upon an entire new Construction.”

In the 1770s, fashionable women preferred a towering hairstyle known as the high roll.  Their high hair testified that they had the leisure time to maintain the style and the means to hire hairdressers or maids to assist in achieving the style.  While some women with high rolls wore wigs, most arranged their own hair around pads and rollers, sometimes embellished with plumes, ribbons, hats, or other adornments.  Women wore high rolls to assert status, but they also became targets of critics who condemned luxury and the corrupting influences sometimes associated with consumer culture in the eighteenth century.

William Warden, a wigmaker who kept shop on King Street in Boston, attempted to catch the attention of prospective customers with an advertisement “To the LADIES” in the September 9, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  He promoted a product that he invented to aid women in achieving the style while also making high hair more comfortable to wear.  Warden proclaimed that he “invented an HAIR-ROLL upon an entire new Construction,” one that weighed significantly less than those made and sold by his competitors.  The wigmaker estimated that most “Rolls in common use weigh from Seven to Ten Ounces, whereas those he makes do not exceed Three.”  Warden did not believe that he needed to provide further recommendation for his product.  “The Advantages of a light Roll over a heavy one,” he declared, “are so obvious that it would be affrontive to the Understanding to point them out.”  Women who wore the style may have been delighted to learn of hair rollers that were easier to balance and put less strain on their necks.

According to Warden, being fashionable did not mean having to be uncomfortable, or at least not as uncomfortable as most hair rolls made the women who wore them.  He invited women to give his new product a try, giving them access to a popular fashion, the high roll, without experiencing some of the disadvantages often associated with it.

November 24

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

Nov 24 - 11:24:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 24, 1769).

“HAIR ROLLS for LADIES.”

A very short advertisement in the November 24, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed readers of “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES, Made by Williams and Stanwood in Portsmouth.” Although brief, this advertisement demonstrated the reach of fashion beyond the major port cities to smaller towns in the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution. In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman documents clothing and hairstyles favored by the elite in the largest urban port, but such styles were not confined solely to places like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Williams and Stanwood made “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES” available to the better sorts (and anyone else willing to pay their fees) in Portsmouth and its hinterlands.

Haulman offers a description of styles adopted by ladies in Philadelphia. “At tea tables, assemblies, and even in city streets, ladies’ hoops grew wider, and heads appeared larger with high rolls. Fashionable hairstyles for women began to grow in the late 1760s, and with them rose the ire of social critics.”[1] The high roll became popular at the same time that many colonists participated in nonimportation agreements as a means of resisting the duties that Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, tea, and other good in the Townshend Acts. Women who chose high rolls to express themselves emulated fashions “that English ladies all too eagerly copied from their French counterparts.”[2] For many, the high roll became a symbol of luxury that contradicted the spirit of sacrifice that patriots practiced when they abided by nonimportation agreements. Furthermore, the high roll testified to continued cultural dependence on and deference to England. As Haulman notes, residents of Philadelphia “asserted the city’s, and their own, stylish, cosmopolitan character through fashion even as the imperial ties that engendered those cultural forms began to unravel.”[3]

Such inconsistencies did not occur only in Philadelphia, though they may have been most visible in large port cities. Hairdressers, wigmakers, and others did not limit their efforts to market high rolls and other fashionable styles to the gentry in urban centers. Instead, colonists in Portsmouth as well as nearby towns and villages had access to “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES, Made by Williams and Stanwood.” Opportunities to purchase (or not) such items as well as other garments and goods allowed them to express their own personal style and political principles while grappling with any incongruities between the two.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 638.

[2] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 638.

[3] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 640.