Stobart, J. (2009) Taste and textiles: selling fashion in eighteenth-century provincial England. Paper presented to: Selling Textiles in the Long Eighteenth Century: Comparative Perspectives from Western Europe, University of Northampton, England, 10-11 June 2009.
Much has been written in recent years about the changing material culture of textiles in late seventeenth and eighteenth-century Britain, especially the rise of cotton textiles from India and their impact on domestic supply and demand. Much less has been written about the processes by which consumers acquired these ‘exotic’ fabrics – or, indeed, other ‘more traditional’ types of cloth. We lack detailed information about even some fairly basic questions such as: who sold the newly fashionable calicos; to what extent were they integrated within existing forms of textile retailing, and how did their supply vary across space and time, not least in response to the bans of 1700 and 1720? In this paper, I want to draw on detailed analysis of the probate inventories of provincial shopkeepers to begin answering some of these questions. But I want to go further and consider the ways in which shopkeepers sought to market these wares through the printed media. Here, I am particularly interested in the position and role of printed calicos, etc. in the promotional strategies of retailers and the ways in which provenance was (or was not) used as a selling point. Building on this, I seek to analyse the nature of these advertisements as instruments of marketing: to what extent did they promote certain cultural values (e.g. politeness) or social-commercial imperatives, most especially fashion.