What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“John Astle, Stay-Maker, & Taylor, directly from London.”
When John Astle, a tailor and staymaker, set up shop in New Haven in the summer of 1768, he placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal to inform prospective clients that he made and repaired all sorts of garments, including “Cloaks, and Huzzas,” “Riding-Habits for Ladies,” and corsets (stays). He also pledged to deliver exemplary customer service: “Whoever will be kind enough to favour him with their Custom, may depend upon the best Usage in his Power.”
In the process of introducing himself to readers he hoped would become customers, Astle also noted his origins. He stated that he had arrived in New Haven “directly from London.” (The tailor may have requested that “London” appear in italics to garner more attention, but more likely the compositor made this decision without consulting the advertiser.) In so doing, he adopted a common marketing strategy, one that was especially popular among members of the garment trades. The frequency of styles changing dramatically accelerated in the eighteenth century as part of the consumer revolution. Colonists looked to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, for the latest fashions. Some advertisers explicitly stated that they made or sold garments, housewares, and other goods according to the most current tastes. Others asserted connections to London or other places in England or continental Europe as a means of suggesting that they had acquired both skill in crafting apparel and knowledge of the newest fashions.
Stating that they were “from London,” however, left room for interpretation. That description did not specify how recently advertisers had worked in London or migrated to the colonies. Astle apparently realized that some prospective clients would be skeptical. To answer any objections, he modified the standard phrase “from London” to “directly from London,” communicating to readers that he had not been working in the English provinces or other colonies immediately prior to arriving in New Haven. Months or years had not passed since he had actively made garments in the city at the center of the empire. Instead, potential customers could depend on him having knowledge of current styles and outfitting them accordingly. Many eighteenth-century advertisements deployed formulaic phrases, but advertisers like Astle sometimes modified them to suit their needs and deliver better marketing appeals.