November 24

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

Nov 24 - 11:24:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 24, 1769).

“HAIR ROLLS for LADIES.”

A very short advertisement in the November 24, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed readers of “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES, Made by Williams and Stanwood in Portsmouth.” Although brief, this advertisement demonstrated the reach of fashion beyond the major port cities to smaller towns in the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution. In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman documents clothing and hairstyles favored by the elite in the largest urban port, but such styles were not confined solely to places like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Williams and Stanwood made “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES” available to the better sorts (and anyone else willing to pay their fees) in Portsmouth and its hinterlands.

Haulman offers a description of styles adopted by ladies in Philadelphia. “At tea tables, assemblies, and even in city streets, ladies’ hoops grew wider, and heads appeared larger with high rolls. Fashionable hairstyles for women began to grow in the late 1760s, and with them rose the ire of social critics.”[1] The high roll became popular at the same time that many colonists participated in nonimportation agreements as a means of resisting the duties that Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, tea, and other good in the Townshend Acts. Women who chose high rolls to express themselves emulated fashions “that English ladies all too eagerly copied from their French counterparts.”[2] For many, the high roll became a symbol of luxury that contradicted the spirit of sacrifice that patriots practiced when they abided by nonimportation agreements. Furthermore, the high roll testified to continued cultural dependence on and deference to England. As Haulman notes, residents of Philadelphia “asserted the city’s, and their own, stylish, cosmopolitan character through fashion even as the imperial ties that engendered those cultural forms began to unravel.”[3]

Such inconsistencies did not occur only in Philadelphia, though they may have been most visible in large port cities. Hairdressers, wigmakers, and others did not limit their efforts to market high rolls and other fashionable styles to the gentry in urban centers. Instead, colonists in Portsmouth as well as nearby towns and villages had access to “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES, Made by Williams and Stanwood.” Opportunities to purchase (or not) such items as well as other garments and goods allowed them to express their own personal style and political principles while grappling with any incongruities between the two.

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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): 638.

[2] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 638.

[3] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 640.

February 5

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

Feb 5 - 2:5:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 6, 1768).

Williams & Stanwood Peruke Makers, Hair Cutters and Dressers.”

In eighteenth-century America wigmakers and hairdressers like Williams and Stanwood did not restrict their attempts to incite demand for their services to the better sorts who resided in the largest port cities. Their advertisement in the February 5, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed prospective clients in Portsmouth and its hinterland that “they carry on their Business together at the lower end of Queen Street.” Rather than cultivating a clientele of the local elite, they sold gentlemen’s wigs “suitable for all Ranks in Life.” In addition, they served “Ladies who live in the Country, or at a distance from a Hair Dresser,” accepting orders for wigs submitted by post or messenger. Whether potential customers lived in a busy port city or a quiet village did not matter: wigmakers and hairdressers insisted that they must keep up with current fashions by enlisting their services.

Williams and Stanwood also used their advertisement to instruct the ladies about products that might not have been familiar to them previously, including “new invented rough TOUPEES.” Such merchandise needed some explanation to help prospective clients understand their value and convenience. Sold “with or without Powder,” such wigs “preserves their Form, and want no dressing.” They made it that much easier for women to prepare themselves to receive guests in their homes or to appear in public since these wigs were “so easily fixed that Ladies may Dress themselves in five Minutes Time, fit for any Company.” Customers did not, however, benefit from this ease and simplicity by sacrificing the quality or style derived from sitting with the hairdressers at their shop. Williams and Stanwood proclaimed that their toupees “excel the finest Hair Dressing now in Practice.” Ladies did not necessarily need the advantage of leisure time to appear smartly coiffed, especially if they acquired “new invented rough TOUPEES” from Williams and Stanwood.

Urban ports like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia may have been the cosmopolitan centers of colonial life, but wigmakers and hairdressers did not allow the gentry to dictate that they be the only beneficiaries of their services. Instead, wigmakers and hairdressers encouraged much broad swaths of the colonial population to engage their products and services, portraying them as simultaneously stylish and convenient. Williams and Stanwood sold their wigs to customers of “all Ranks in Life” from city and countryside alike. To that end, they explained new products to prospective clients, training them to desire the most recent creations available in the marketplace.