May 18

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

May 18 - 5:18:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (May 18, 1767).

“Cloaths, after the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.”

George Senneff adopted a marketing strategy commonly deployed by tailors and other artisans. To imbue his services with extra cachet, he included his origins in his introduction: “George Senneff, Taylor, from LONDON.” Colonists were preoccupied with the latest trends in England, especially London, when it came to both dress and adorning private and public spaces. They experienced anxiety that they might appear pretenders in provincial backwaters as they participated in transatlantic consumer culture that changed increasingly rapidly as the eighteenth century progressed. Tailors and others in the clothing trades, as well as hairdressers and cabinetmakers, offered reassurances that their goods and services were à la mode when they asserted their connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire.

Many considered announcing that they were “from LONDON” sufficient for the purpose, but Senneff treated that merely as an opening salvo in his bid to win clients concerned about wearing the latest fashions and demonstrating their awareness of the most current trends. Not only was he “from LONDON,” Senneff proclaimed that he made men’s garments of “plain and lac’d Cloaths, after the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.” He reiterated this claim when he described the riding habits he made for women: “after the newest Fashions now worn in London.” Senneff had his finger on the pulse of changing tastes in the metropole. In turn, his clients in New York would exhibit that insider’s knowledge in their attire as they attended to business and socialized in the colonial outpost.

Senneff’s decision to repeatedly state that his garments conformed to “the newest Fashions now worn in London” may not have merely reassured customers. Instead, such intensive focus on the latest styles in that faraway city could have stoked anxiety among local consumers. Repetitively invoking current tastes in London may have prompted some potential customers to dwell on this aspect of their own apparel, encouraging them to seek out Senneff’s services since he seemed to be in the know and could provide appropriate guidance in outfitting them “after the newest and genteelest Taste.” Senneff craftily induced such uneasiness and simultaneously offered his services as an especially effective way to experience relief. His notice was no mere announcement but rather a clever attempt to manipulate potential customers into visiting his shop.

May 13

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

May 13 - 5:13:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Extraordinary
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Extraordinary (May 13, 1767).

“A patern card of the above holes may be seen at his house.”

Robert Cripps, a tailor originally from London, used his advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to draw attention to another form of marketing intended to entice potential clients to avail themselves of his services. After announcing that he “makes gold and silver plate holes, gold and silver slazy [holes],” he informed readers that “A patern card of the above holes may be seen at his house on the Bay.” Print culture accounted for much of the marketing in eighteenth-century America as advertisers distributed trade cards, billheads, and catalogs and inserted notices in newspapers and on magazine wrappers, but print was not the only – or even always the best – way to generate interest and incite demand. Material culture offered an attractive and viable alternative.

No matter how articulate or elaborate Cripps and other tailors could have been in describing their work in advertisements, doing so certainly could not have compared to allowing potential customers to examine finished work for themselves. Pattern cards provided a means of making this possible that had several advantages. Tailors and customers did not have to handle finished garments made for other clients, nor did tailors need to keep extensive inventory on hand. Instead, pattern cards allowed them to demonstrate an array of possibilities. Pattern cards presented consumers with an array of choices similar to the “assortment of goods” that commonly appeared in lengthy list-style advertisements placed by shopkeepers. In selecting the style of buttonholes that fit their taste and budget, clients asserted control over interactions with those they hired as well as, ultimately, their appearance rather than settling for whatever wares tailors might have otherwise foisted on them. Cripps could construct garments that were distinctive and special, but he did so at the direction of his clients who made a variety of choices about their apparel, including the type of buttonholes they selected from the pattern card. The pattern card was a useful tool, not only because it presented samples but perhaps more importantly because it excited potential clients’ imaginations and stoked their desire and demand for Cripps’ tailoring services.

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While the “plate holes” in this advertisement were familiar to eighteenth-century consumers, they are no longer part of the lexicon of most modern consumers when they purchase clothing. I turned to specialists in the histories of textiles and fashion for assistance in determining what Cripps meant. Kimberly Alexander, Gina Barrett, and the pseudonymous Scrapiana graciously and insightfully pointed me in the right direction via a conversation on Twitter last week.  Barrett drew my attention to both of the garments below.

May 13 - British Plate Hole
Button and plate hole from British waistcoat, 1740s. (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

“Plate holes” referred to buttonholes created by stitching over flat metal plates on either side of the hole. See, for example, a British waistcoat from the 1740s now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum. For an even more elaborate example, see the circa 1760 French waistcoat at the Kent State University Museum. In contrast, “slazy” holes did not have metal plates.

May 13 - French Plate Hole
Buttons and plate holes from French waistcoat, ca. 1760s. (Courtesy Kent State University Museum.)

 

May 5

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

May 5 - 5:5:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 5, 1767).

“An entire new fabrick.”

Shopkeepers frequently advertised that they stocked goods, especially materials for making apparel, which were “suitable to the season.” On occasion, they noted that they carried items especially appropriate for the climate of a particular region, whether the heat and humidity in southern colonies or the cold and chill in their northern counterparts.

Thomas Fell, a tailor in Charleston, expanded on that sort of appeal in an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He informed potential customers that he had just imported “A Compleat assortment of summer cloths and trimmings,” but he did not stop there. To incite curiosity and demand, he claimed that his wares were made “of an entire new fabrick, and the first of the kind ever imported into America.” Compared to more familiar textiles, this one was “much thin[n]er, and certainly fitter than any for a hot country.” As he made a pitch particular to residents of Charleston and its hinterland, the tailor neglected to name this wonderful new textile.

Lest his claims seem too good to be true, Fell resorted to other appeals to reassure customers. He described the fabric as “equal in fineness with the best superfine cloth.” His clients would not have to sacrifice quality for comfort. His inventory originated “from as good Manufactures as any in England.” He also underscored that this wonderful new material was not excessively expensive. Thanks to the relationships he cultivated with the producers, this “entire new fabrick” was as affordable as any other. Customers would not have to pay a premium for clothing materials “fitter than any for a hot country.”

Thomas Fell marketed a novelty product, but one that was exceptionally useful and suited to the clients he hoped to attract. His advertisement likely evoked both curiosity and skepticism; either reaction could draw potential customers into Fell’s shop to examine his “entire new fabrick” and decide for themselves the validity of his claims.

March 13

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 13 - 3:13:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 13, 1767).

“He makes all Sorts of Gentlemen’s Wearing Apparell.”

In this advertisement, “Richard Lowden, Taylor from LONDON, hereby informs the Public, that the Co-Partnership between him and Robert Patterson … was dissolved.” At the end of the advertisement, Lowden reassured “all Persons who favor him … may depend on being faithfully and punctually served”

The role and importance of tailors in colonial and Revolutionary America was different than today. According to Ed Crews, early Americans bought most of their clothing from tailors. Unlike today’s system of buying clothes, early Americans did not simply walk into stores and pick from a range of mass produced styles in predetermined standard sizes. Instead, people from all different social classes bought handmade clothing from tailors. However, tailors still produced different types of clothing for different people. The price varied, mostly dependent on the style and material used by the tailor. In addition, tailors made clothing to exact specifications for each customer.

Tailors played an important role in the everyday lives of all different sorts of Americans in the eighteenth century. According to Crews, even George Washington was self-conscious about what his fashion style represented. In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman further details the political and cultural importance of fashion in Revolutionary America.[1] Colonists were socially self-aware how they dressed reflected their values politically and culturally, furthering supporting the idea that tailors played an important role in colonial life.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In the process of researching and writing about today’s advertisement, Daniel grappled with a common misconception about clothing production in early America. Many people assume that colonists wore garments primarily produced in the colonies due to the efforts of women who worked at spinning wheels and looms in their homes and then made clothing from the textiles they produced. Such domestic production accounted for some of the clothing worn by colonists, but not all of it. Among the advertisements that filled newspapers in the decades before the Revolution, shopkeepers placed countless notices that listed a vast array of imported textiles and adornments for making clothing. As Daniel notes, tailors, seamstresses, mantuamakers, and others in the clothing trades transformed imported fabrics into garments, frequently advertising their services.

Compared to newspapers published in larger port cities, the New-Hampshire Gazette had less advertising. Still, the choices available to residents of Portsmouth and its hinterland found their way into the public prints. In the same issue that Richard Lowden advertised that he made “neat, cheap, strong and fashionable garments,” shopkeeper John Adams announced that he sold “A General Assortment of English GOODS.” Adams’ inventory almost certainly included textiles that Lowden hoped they would bring to him over “any Taylor in Town.”

Given the tensions and ongoing suspicion of Britain in the wake of the Stamp Act and its repeal, colonists sometimes made a point of opting for homespun fabrics, those produced by women as an alternative to imported English textiles. However, they also had other options. Andrew Nelson, a “WEAVER from SCOTLAND,” placed an advertisement announcing “that he has set up that Business” in Portsmouth. He promised that he “weaves all Sorts of Linnen” that customers could depend on being “equal to any imported.” Whether they acquired textiles from Adams the shopkeeper or Nelson the weaver, readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette likely visited Lowden the tailor or one of his competitors.

Today the process of purchasing clothing has been streamlined for the convenience of consumers. Custom made clothing is not a remnant of the past, but visiting a tailor or seamstress is no longer practically a necessity like it was in colonial and Revolutionary America. Daniel notes that Lowden concluded his advertisement by stating that customers would be “faithfully and punctually served,” a promise that might sound strange to modern consumers. In the eighteenth century, however, it was a means of offering some of the convenience that today consumers barely notice when they select readymade garments off the rack.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 625-662.

October 24

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

oct-24-10241766-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 24, 1766).

“Stephen Hardy, Taylor from London.

This advertisement starts off with the words: “Stephen Hardy, Taylor from London.” It originally caught my attention because it mentioned a specific line of products. Many newspaper advertisements were from the equivalent of general stores, shops where a variety of goods — from agricultural tools to alcohol to handkerchiefs — could be purchased. Yet this one is an advertisement for a very specific line of goods and services. Hardy “Makes Gentlemens Cloaths of all sorts” and “He has just Imported A variety of Remnants of Cloth.” The advertisement made me curious about clothing and fashions in Colonial America. I looked at the different terms used in the advertisement, including “Breeches,” “Ladies Riding Habets,” and “strip’d Linnen.”

Those lines got me thinking about what the everyday wear for colonists was and how clothing was important to colonial society. Even in the modern day, clothing can be interpreted as a symbol of socioeconomic status. This also proved true for the 1700s. Typically men of the middle to upper class wore breeches and shirt, not necessarily with a jacket nor necessarily of a matching pattern. Women’s fashions varied with social class in regard to fabric and style.

In addition, another thing very important to note about clothing and fashion during this time was the complex etiquette associated with clothes. There was a specific protocol, especially with the social elite, about what was acceptable in informal and formal situations. There were informal everyday garments, the “undress,” and formal garments, the “dress” clothing. In addition different accessories and fabrics were included in this silent protocol. A consumer from the upper classes who read the advertisement would know right away which things were appropriate for everyday use and what needed to be worn. These choices would not only appease their peers but showcase to the others that they enjoyed a privileged social position. This idea of social status and acting in a way that befits one’s station was an important component of early American society. Understanding colonial clothing helps modern day people understand colonial society overall.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Given the size of Portsmouth relative to other colonial cities, the New-Hampshire Gazette published fewer advertisements than newspapers from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. In any of those urban ports, Stephen Hardy’s advertisement would have competed with several others that offered similar goods and services. In the October 24, 1766, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, only one other advertisement bore any sort of resemblance to Hardy’s notice. Samuel Cutts promoted an array of imported textiles, but also listed “All sorts of Nails; Frying Pans; Shovels and Tongs, &c. &c. &c. &c.”

Hardy and Cutts certainly competed for some of the same customers, but several aspects of Hardy’s advertisement suggest that he enticed Portsmouth’s more genteel consumers (or those who aspired to gentility). Perhaps most significantly, Hardy, a “Taylor from London,” offered services to accompany the goods he sold. He not only imported textiles but also “punctually served” his clients who visited him to have “Gentlemens Cloaths of all sorts” and “Ladies Riding Habets” made to specification. Cutts, on the other hand, sold textiles but did not assist customers in transforming them into finished apparel. Cutts did sell pins and sewing needles so his customers could make their own clothing out of the fabrics they purchased from him.

In listing his occupation as a “Taylor” rather than a shopkeeper, Hardy also underscored that he was “from London.” He did not indicate how recently he had migrated to the colonies (though many readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have known approximately how long he had resided in Portsmouth), but listing his origins affiliated him with the Britain’s largest city and the cosmopolitan center of the empire. By implication, his textiles and the clothing he made from them aligned with the latest fashions of the transatlantic elite.

Hardy also addressed his prospective clients as gentlemen and ladies, suggesting the status of those who visited his shop. When customers did call on Hardy they found themselves surrounded with fine textiles and adornments, rather than the diversity of qualities (or the hardware and housewares) listed in Cutts’ advertisement. As Megan notes, Hardy specialized in his trade; the inventory in his advertisement and shop reflected his work as a tailor rather than a shopkeeper.

 

May 25

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

May 25 - 5:23:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 23, 1766).

“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.

May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 9, 1766).

Stephen Hardy, TAYLOR from LONDON.”

Stephen Hardy did not indicate how long he had lived and worked in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but his advertisement made it clear that he had migrated from London.

In yesterday’s advertisement blacksmith Daniel Offley played on the fact that he had lived in Philadelphia and practiced his trade there for many years. His familiarity with, as well as service to, the community, Offley stated, justified potential customers choosing him over his competitors.

In contrast, it likely worked in Stephen Hardy’s favor if he had only recently crossed the Atlantic to take up residence in New Hampshire. Portsmouth was a small city in 1766 – barely a village compared to the booming population of London. Colonists in Portsmouth and throughout the colonies felt anxious that they lived in tiny backwater outposts of the empire.

By underscoring that he was from London (and presumably trained there in the tailoring trade), Hardy linked himself, his business, and the “Gentlemen’s Cloaths of all Sorts, Ladies Riding Habbits, &c.” he made and sold with the cosmopolitanism of the empire’s metropolitan center of fashion and culture.

In the decades before the Revolution, several English travelers registered their shock – and sometimes annoyance – that colonists dressed in the latest London fashions. Engaging a “TAYLOR from LONDON” would have helped colonial consumers assert their identity as Britons and as genteel participants cognizant of the latest trends in the heart of the capital and cultural center of the empire.