July 8

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (July 8, 1773).

“He has obtained a certificate from the Queen’s Stay-Maker in London.”

Readers of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer likely noticed the image that adorned John Burchett’s advertisement in the July 8, 1773, edition.  After all, it was the only image featured throughout the issue, with the exception of a woodcut depicting a ship at sea that appeared in the masthead.  Burchett, a “STAY and RIDING HABIT-MAKER” who kept shop “at the Sign of the Crown and Stays,” led his advertisement with a woodcut that replicated that sign.

Yet Burchett did not rely on the image alone to market his goods and services.  Instead, he incorporated other appeals in his efforts to convince prospective customers to purchase stays from him.  For instance, he invoked his origins and previous experience, describing himself as “From LONDON and PARIS.”  Like others in the garment trades, Burchett suggested to consumers that they would derive additional cachet from hiring someone with connections to such cosmopolitan cities.  Most tailors, milliners, and staymakers who migrated across the Atlantic could claim roots in only one of those capitals of fashion and gentility, yet Burchett asserted ties to both.  He especially emphasized the recognition he gained in London, informing prospective customers that “he has obtained a certificate form the Queen’s Stay-Maker in London.”

That testified to the taste and quality associated with stays made by Burchett.  For those concerned about price, he declared that he “has also a good number of ready made stays of the best quality, cheaper than can be imported.”  He even gave prices so prospective customers could assess the bargains for themselves without having to visit his shop.  In addition, he proposed a payment plan meant to encourage consumers to select him over his competitors.  The staymaker pledged that “any lady who shall employ him” could pay “half cash … and the rest in dry goods.”  That put him in a position to barter with female shopkeepers and the wives and daughters of merchants and shopkeepers.

Burchett did not merely announce that he made and sold stays and then hope that customers would visit his shop at the Sign of the Crown and Stays.  Instead, he deployed an image that corresponded to the sign associated with his business as an invitation to peruse a lively narrative that included a variety of marketing strategies.  He commented on fashion and price while emphasizing his experience working in London and Paris and alternatives to paying with cash or credit.  As a result of such attention to so many aspects of his business, prospective customers could trust that the staymaker would indeed “use all possible endeavours to merit their interest.”

June 27

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

New-York Journal (June 24, 1773).

“Carrying on his Business of Stay-making … in the neatest Taste, wore by the Ladies of Great Britain and France.”

John McQueen continued making and selling stays in New York in 1773.  He had been living, working, and advertising in the city for many years.  Similar to a corset, a pair of stays, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, consisted of a “laced underbodice, stiffened by the insertion of whale-bone (sometimes of metal or wood) worn by women (sometimes by men) to give shape and support to the figure.”  Furthermore, the “use of the plural is due to the fact that stays were originally (as they still are usually) made in two pieces laced together.”  John White included a woodcut depicting a pair of stays and lacing in his advertisement in the September 19, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

When he advertised in the New-York Journal in June 1773, McQueen emphasized his role as a supplier of “WHALE BONE” of “THE VERY BEST SORT” to other staymakers.  In addition, he stocked a “very neat and fashionable Assortment of STAYS, for Misses of three to fourteen Years of Age.”  Apparently, both staymakers and consumers did not believe that girls were ever too young to deploy these devices to shape their figures.”  Richard Norris, another staymaker in New York, regularly placed newspaper advertisements addressed to “young Ladies and growing Misses” as well as “Any Ladies uneasy in their shapes.”  Cultivating and preying on such anxieties was not invented by the modern beauty and fashion industries.

McQueen also resorted to another familiar refrain, declaring that he had on hand a “very neat Assortment of Goods for carrying on his Business of Stay-making, as usual, in the neatest Taste, wore by the Ladies of Great Britain and France.”  He often made such transatlantic connections, suggesting to prospective customers that he could assist them in demonstrating the sort of sophistication associated with cosmopolitan cities in Europe.  In 1766, he declared that he made stays “in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France.”  In another advertisement from 1767, he confided that he made “all sorts of Stays for Ladies, in the newest Fashions that is wore in London.”  Encouraging anxiety about the female form and making comparisons to fashionable elites became standard marketing strategies for McQueen and other staymakers in the eighteenth century.

April 4

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

New-York Journal (April 1, 1773).

“Any Ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits, without incumbrance.”

Richard Norris billed himself as a “Stay-maker from London” even though he had resided and worked in New York for several years by the time he published his advertisement in the April 1, 1773, edition of the New-York Journal.  He considered his connection to the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire a selling point.  Norris informed readers that he previously served the best sorts of clients on both sides of the Atlantic, declaring that he “has had the honour of working for several Ladies of distinction, both in England, and this city.”  The quality of his stays (or corsets) and his skill in producing them yielded “universal applause” from his clients.

Although Norris had been in New York for some time, he also suggested that he maintained his connection to London.  For instance, he made stays “after the newest fashion” in that city.  In another advertisement, he described how he “acquires the first fashions of the court of London by a correspondent he has settled there.”  Furthermore, he adhered to “methods approved of by the society of Stay-makers in London” in designing and making his stays, especially those for “young Ladies and growing Misses inclined to casts, and rising in their hips and shoulders.”

Norris frequently coupled appeals to the latest fashions from London with attempts to make women feel anxious about their bodies.  “Any Ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits, without incumbrance,” the staymaker asserted in 1768 and reiterated in 1770 and 1773.  In return for helping them address purported physical shortcomings that he helped them to overcome (or at least disguise) with his stays, Norris asked his clients to recommend him to others.  He extended “his sincere thanks to all his customers, and hopes their good word will not be wanting to his further promotion.  Not unlike modern marketing for clothing and beauty products, Norris encouraged “young Ladies and growing Misses” to feel uncomfortable with their bodies, purchase his product to ease their anxieties, and reward him for his part in addressing a supposed shortcoming that he highlighted and did not allow them to overlook.

September 19

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 19, 1772).

“John White Stay-Maker”

Most advertisements in colonial newspapers did not feature visual images.  Those that did usually used a stock image provided by the printer, such as a ship at sea, a house, a horse, or an enslaved person liberating him- or herself by “running away.”  Never elaborate in the scenes depicted, such woodcuts could be used interchangeably in advertisements from the appropriate genre.  Some advertisers, however, commissioned images that corresponded to the shop signs that marked their locations or illustrated one or more items available among their merchandise.

Two such images appeared in the September 19, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Robert Parrish once again included the woodcut depicting a “ROLLING SCREEN for cleaning wheat and flaxseed,” though he did not use a woodcut showing a Dutch fan or winnowing fan that previously appeared with it.  Perhaps he did not wish to incur the additional cost for the space required to publish two images.

Another entrepreneur, John White, adorned his advertisement with an image of a stay (or corset), the body and holes for the laces on the left and the laces on the right.  Readers would have easily recognized the garment and understood how it wrapped around and confined a woman’s body.  The words “John White” and “Stay-Maker” flanked the woodcut.  The image accounted for half of the space for the advertisement, an additional investment beyond commissioning the woodcut.

White announced that he moved to a new location where “he continues to carry on the Staymaking business as usual.”  He pledged “to give satisfaction to all who are pleased to employ him.”  He also solicited “orders from any part of the country” and provided mail order service, making it unnecessary for clients to visit his shop in Philadelphia.  Instead, they could send measurements “in respect to length and width of the Stays, both at top and bottom exactly, in the front and back parts.”  The staymaker warned that customers who opted for that convenience needed to pay postage for such orders rather than expect him to take responsibility for those charges.

The woodcut depicting a stay, its body and laces unfurled, almost certainly helped attract attention to White’s advertisement, his promises of customer satisfaction, and the option for submitting orders “by the post” rather than visiting his shop.  Most newspaper advertisements consisted solely of text, so any sort of visual enhancement, whether an image or decorative type, distinguished those advertisements from others.

January 26

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

New-York Journal (January 23, 1772).

“The newest and neatest manner, either in the French or English taste.”

When John Burcket, a “Stay and Riding Habit-maker,” arrived in New York, he placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal to offer his services to the “ladies of this city.”  Like many other artisans who migrated across the Atlantic, he informed prospective clients where he had previously lived and worked, hoping to bolster his reputation among those who had not yet had an opportunity to examine the garments that he made.

In Burcket’s case, he proclaimed that he “lately arrived from London and Paris,” but did not mention where he had been most recently or how long he spent in either city.  What mattered more to him (and what he hoped mattered more to the ladies that he hoped to entice to his shop) was that his connections to two such cosmopolitan cities gave him greater knowledge of the current tastes and styles in both of them.  Burcket proclaimed that made stays (or corsets) and riding habits “in the newest and neatest manner, either in the French or English taste.”  This signaled that he did more than merely produce the garments; he also served as a guide for his clients, keeping them up to date on the latest trends and giving them advice.

Burcket buttressed such appeals with other promises intended to draw prospective clients into his shop.  He pledged that they “may depend on being punctually served.”  In addition to such customer service, Burcket aimed to achieve “utmost satisfaction” among his clients, hoping that “meriting their esteem” would lead to word-of-mouth recommendations.  He was also conscious of the prices he set, stating that he made and sold stays and riding habits “as cheap as can be imported.”  His clients did not have to pay a premium for consultations with an artisan “lately arrived from London and Paris.”  Even as he incorporated several marketing strategies into his notice, he made his connections to those cities the centerpiece of his introduction to the ladies of New York.

January 4

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

Providence Gazette (January 4, 1772).

“The first Stay-Maker that has ever been so contiguous to the Ladies of this Town.”

With the arrival of a new year, Charles Mahon, a staymaker, opened a new business in Providence.  He placed an advertisement in the January 4, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette “to inform the Ladies of Providence, and others, that he carries on the Stay-Making Business in said Town.”  Mahon assured prospective clients that he made “all Kinds of Stays” as well as a variety of other items associated with his occupation.

Mahon proclaimed that he was “the first Stay-Maker that has ever been so contiguous to the Ladies of this Town,” suggesting that no staymaker previously resided in Providence and operated a shop there.  If that was indeed the case, then the women of the town previously purchased stays produced elsewhere and imported to Providence, making do with imperfect fits or, if possible, making alterations as necessary.  Mahon asserted that having a staymaker in town who “intends to apply himself chiefly” to that business meant that “the Ladies” benefited from a new convenience.  In turn, his enterprise merited “their Encouragement.”

The newcomer realized that his prospective clients were not familiar with the stays he produced.  As part of his introduction to “the Ladies of this Town,” he offered assurances that they “may depend on having their Work done in the best and most fashionable Manner.”  Mahon paired quality and fashion, promising that he delivered both to his customers.  Such appeals suggested his skill as a staymaker combined with a careful eye that registered changes in taste.  His clients could rely on him to make recommendations and outfit them according to the newest modes, a valuable service that exceeded merely fabricating stays.  Such care for his patrons did not, however, come at exorbitant prices.  Instead, Mahon set “reasonable Terms.”

Mahon provided a convenience that he claimed was new to “the Ladies” of Providence, but he also realized that convenience alone would not necessarily generate business.  To convince prospective clients to give him a chance, he incorporated familiar appeals to quality, fashion, and price into his advertisement.  His customers did not need to sacrifice any of them, Mahon suggested, to enjoy the convenience of acquiring stays from a local staymaker.

February 25

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 25, 1771).

“Just received advice from London of the fashions advanced for the court ladies this year.”

Thomas Hartley made stays or corsets for “the LADIES” of New York in the early 1770s.  In his efforts to cultivate a clientele, he placed an advertisement in the February 25, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, advising prospective customers that “he makes STAYS OF ALL SORTS, in the newest and best fashion.”  Staymakers as well as tailors, milliners, and others who made garments frequently emphasized that they followed the latest fashions, assuring clients that they did not need to worry about appearing behind the times and out of style after visiting their shops and hiring their services.

Hartley enhanced such appeals with additional commentary in his advertisement, first describing himself as “LATE FROM LONDON” in a portion of his advertisement that served as a headline.  Colonists looked to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, for the latest fashions.  The gentry in New York and other colonies sought to demonstrate their own sophistication by keeping up with styles popular in London.  In proclaiming that he was “LATE FROM LONDON,” Hartley established a connection that suggested he had special insight into the current trends in the metropolis.  Later in the advertisement, he extended “humble thanks to all ladies that have favoured me with their commands,” calling into question just how recently he had arrived in New York.

The staymaker, however, suggested that something else mattered more.  After migrating across the Atlantic, he maintained contact with correspondents who kept him informed about the newest styles.  He trumpeted that he had “just received advice from London of the fashions advanced for the court ladies this year.”  As a result, Hartley felt confident that he could “give universal satisfaction” to his clients.  In making a pitch to “the LADIES” of New York, he claimed to have access to information about the garments the most elite women in London would be wearing in the coming months.  Prospective clients in New York could not expect anything more cutting edge than that!

Fashion often played a role in the appeals made by staymakers, tailors, milliners, and others.  In some instances, advertisers included generic statements using formulaic words and phrases, a shorthand intended to reassure prospective clients that they understood their trade and provided satisfactory services.  Hartley, on the other hand, elaborated on his appeal to “the very newest and best fashion,” seeking to convince customers that he did indeed possess special insights into current trends in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire.

January 14

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

Jan 14 - 1:11:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 11, 1770).

“Any Ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits without any incumberance.”

Richard Norris, “STAY-MAKER, from LONDON,” made a variety of appeals to prospective customers in an advertisement he inserted in the January 11, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. When it came to making stays (corsets) and other garments, he promised high quality (“the neatest and best manner”) and low prices (“the most reasonable rates”). He proclaimed the superiority of his work compared to local competitors, stating that his stays were “preferable to any done in these parts, for neatness and true fitting.”

Norris developed two appeals in even greater detail. In one, he emphasized his London origins and continuing connections to the empire’s largest city. Despite political tensions between Parliament and the colonies, London remained the metropolitan center of fashion. Norris assured prospective clients that “he acquires the first fashions of the court of London, by a correspondent settled there.” Although the staymaker had migrated to the colonies, he maintained access to the latest styles in the most cosmopolitan of cities in the British Atlantic world. He also underscored that he constructed stays according to “methods approved of by the society of stay-makers, in London,” implying that his training and experience in that city ranked him above any of his rivals in New York.

While most of these appeals focused on Norris and his abilities, the other strategy that he developed in greater detail targeted female readers of the New-York Journal. He attempted to incite demand for his services by prompting women to feel “uneasy in their shapes.” He made a special point of exhorting “young ladies and growing misses” to question whether they were “inclin’d to casts and risings in their hips and shoulders,” compelling them to imagine that their bodies were misshapen. Young women could hide such imperfections from observers by wearing the stays that Norris made and sold, even though they would retain the knowledge that there was supposedly something wrong or undesirable about their bodies. In eighteenth-century America, quite like today, advertisers often relied on provoking anxieties among consumers, especially young women, and offering to reduce those anxieties as a means of promoting their products.

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:22:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (July 22, 1768).

“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.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 23, 1768).

“Young ladies and growing misses inclined to casts or rises in the hips or shoulders, he likewise prevents.”

Richard Norris, a “Stay-Maker, FROM LONDON,” followed many of the usual conventions in the advertisement he placed in the June 23, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, but he also included one significant innovation. After informing prospective clients of the variety of stays and other garments he made, he also noted that “Any ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits without any Incumberances.” Furthermore, “Young ladies and growing misses inclined to casts or rises in the hips or shoulders, he likewise prevents by methods approved of by the society of stay-makers in London.” Staymakers regularly offered implicit commentary about women’s appearances in their advertisements, but Norris explicitly named reasons that women might feel uncomfortable about their bodies. He purposefully attempted to induce anxiety about their physical features among female readers as a means of attracting clients.

He gave priority to that marketing strategy before turning to more common appeals made by staymakers and others in the garment trades. He asserted that he produced apparel as fashionable as any currently worn in London, rather than lagging behind the styles en vogue in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Prospective patrons could be confident this was the case because Norris “acquires the first fashions of the court of London by a correspondent he has settled there.” Norris realized some sort of research was necessary and cultivated a relationship to make sure he received the most current information about the fashions currently popular among the most influential women in England. In addition, he had previously served prominent women of taste, having “had the honour of working for several ladies of distinction both in England and in this city.” Not only had he made stays and other garments for the elite, his efforts had earned him “universal applause” among his clients.

Like many artisans, Norris emphasized skill and quality in addition to his extensive experience. He pledged that he made garments “after the neatest and best manner,” but in addition to invoking that familiar phrase he proclaimed “his work preferable to any done in these parts for neatness and true fitting.” In other words, Norris considered himself the best staymaker in New York – and encouraged readers of the New-York Journal to adopt that attitude as well.

Norris combined several common appeals with an innovative marketing strategy designed to cause or enhance uneasiness among women by explicitly mentioning various qualities of their bodies. He offered the standard appeals as a remedy to those concerns. Like many modern advertisers, especially advertisers of products intended primarily for women, he attempted to create anxiety among prospective customers and then conveniently provided consumption of his goods and services as the remedy.