What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The gentlemen of this town would be so kind as to come to his shop to be dressed.”
In December 1768, John Roques, a wigmaker and hairdresser in Savannah, informed current and prospective clients that he wished to scale back one of the services he provided. Rather than visit “the gentlemen of this town” at their homes, he requested that they instead “come to his shop to be dressed.” Roques did not apologize or express apprehension about eliminating a service that clients previously found valuable. Instead, he offered an explanation that portrayed his business as thriving and justified his decision.
Roques asserted that he could no longer visit the homes of his clients due to “the great fatigue he was obliged to undergo every day.” The hairdresser was so popular, his services so in demand, that he was being run ragged all over town. He insisted that keeping such a routine had been “very pernicious to his health,” but that was not his primary reason for changing his terms of service. Being away from his shop meant that he “could not give satisfaction” to all of his clients; he did not mean that he provided shoddy assistance but rather that he had to decline to wait on some clients because they sent for him “three or four at once,” making it impossible for him to attend all of them in their homes. Instructing clients to visit his shop allowed Roques to focus his time and energy on dressing hair rather than traveling from home to home around Savannah.
His story of woe, whether or not exaggerated for effect, was also a story of success, one that implicitly testified to his skill. Clients would not have been sending for him “three or four at once” if he had not competently aided them. He did not make appeals to gentility or fashion, as many other wigmakers and hairdressers did in their advertisements. That so many clients simultaneously demanded his services suggested that he more than adequately fulfilled those requirements. In effect, Roques created a narrative about his services that served as an eighteenth-century equivalent of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Prospective clients should hire him because so many of their peers already did.