What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“JONATHAN PROSSER, TAILOR, from LONDON … has lately opened shop.”
Jonathan Prosser concluded his advertisement by drawing special attention to the “Ladies riding habits and Gentlemens hussar dresses” that he “neatly made.”
Although women often employed seamstresses, dressmakers, and mantuamakers to make most of their garments, they also consulted male tailors for their riding apparel. “Ladies riding habits,” intended for riding sidesaddle, consisted of a tailored jacket with a matching long skirt and a tailored shirt as well as a hat, which often mimicked current styles of hats worn by men. The garments were often made of darker fabrics more often associated with men’s clothing. Sometimes tailors integrated other masculine touches, such as mariner’s cuffs. “Ladies riding habits” were intended to be both functional and fashionable.
“Gentlemens hussar dresses” likely referred to riding apparel for the male companions of the women who purchased “Ladies riding habits.” The term “hussar” derived from cavalry units in late medieval Europe. Light cavalry regiments in European and European colonial armies adopted the title and distinctive “hussar dresses” in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When Prosser advertised “Gentlemens hussar dresses” he most likely sought the patronage of elite Virginians, the men who served as officers on muster days when the colonial militia drilled. Such events had social ramifications as much as military utility. Elite men in Virginia would have certainly desired “Gentlemens hussar dresses, neatly made” to signify their status and to impress their peers and other colonists.