What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“He likewise makes Head Dresses for Ladies, so natural as not to be distinguished by the most curious Eye.”
George Lafong described himself as a “Hair Cutter and Dresser” in an advertisement he placed in the January 21, 1773, edition of the Virginia Gazette. He aimed to generate business by suggesting that he already served a satisfied clientele, extending his “humble Thanks to such Ladies and Gentlemen as have been pleased to honour him with their Commands.” In addition, he invited new clients to engage his services.
Lafong deployed several appeals in his efforts to convince residents of Williamsburg and nearby towns to hire him. For instance, he did not require that clients visit his shop. Instead, they could schedule appointments in advance “by giving timely Notice” and the hairdresser traveled to their homes and “waited upon [them] at any Distance from Town.” He did not charge exorbitant prices, but instead set “very reasonable Terms” for such excursions.
In addition, Lafong promoted an associate that he recently hired, reporting that he “has engaged a Man from London who dresses in the newest and most elegant Taste.” That gave Lafong an advantage over other hairdressers who relied on correspondence to learn about the latest trends in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. His associate had firsthand knowledge and experience with the latest styles in London. That advantage transferred to clients; not only did their appearance testify to making good choices in selecting a hairdresser but they could also boast about that hairdresser to friends and acquaintances.
In case that was not enough to convince prospective clients, Lafong also indicated that someone in his shop, either his new associate or Lafong himself, “makes Head Dresses for Ladies, so natural as not to be distinguished by the most curious eye.” In other words, he created wigs and extensions, such as the popular high roll, that withstood close scrutiny. Observers would not be able to tell which portions, if any, of his client’s hairstyle was not her actual hair. Such authenticity helped in projecting grace, elegance, and other genteel attributes.
Fashion found its way to places far removed from London as colonizers participated in a transatlantic consumer revolution in the eighteenth century. Hairdressers offered their services in major urban ports, like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, while also seeking to generate demand among prospective clients in the countryside “any Distance from Town.” Fashion, both as a practice and as a motivation, was not confined to early American cities.