What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“HAIR DRESSERS FROM LONDON.”
Fashion was not solely the domain of elites who resided in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, or the gentry in urban ports like New York and Philadelphia. Instead, colonizers in places like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, also styled themselves according to the newest trends. To do so, they often relied on the advice and guidance of the purveyors of goods and services, including shopkeepers, milliners, tailors, and hairdressers.
In an advertisement in the August 28 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, James Deacon and Robert Hughes described themselves as “HAIR DRESSERS FROM LONDON.” They did not indicate how recently they settled in Portsmouth, though many readers would have known if Deacon and Hughes were new arrivals or had been in town for some time. Asserting a connection to London bestowed some cachet on the hairdressers. It implied experience serving clients who set the latest styles or adopted them quickly as they emerged. It simultaneously intimated exposure to the newest trends, knowledge that gave hairdressers and others “FROM LONDON” an advantage over competitors who labored solely in the colonies. When Deacon and Hughes declared that they made “Gentlemen’s Perriwigs … in the genteelest Taste,” they suggested that they could advise clients what constituted that standard in London. When they stated that they made “Ladie’s Curls & Toupees … on a new Construction,” they hinted that they used methods not previously known in Portsmouth. Prospective clients, Deacon and Hughes insinuated, benefited from hiring hairdressers with connections to London.
Deacon and Hughes hoped such appeals would convince clients to commit to longer terms of service than a single visit to their shop. They offered “to dress Ladies and Gentlemen by the Month Quarter or Year,” cultivating and strengthening relationships. Dressing hair over several months provided many opportunities to advise clients on the newest fashions, convincing them of the value of consulting with Deacon and Hughes. The hairdressers marketed knowledge as well as skill in their efforts to attract clients.