Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7



“The Bosom Friends,” 1786 260[unavailable]

“This is the Season of the Year in which London is a desert, even fashion languishes,” Abigail Adams wrote to Elizabeth Cranch on 18 July. “I however inclose you a Print of the Bosom Friends. When an object is to be ridiculed, tis generally exagerated. The print however does not greatly exceed some of the most fashionable Dames.”

The caricature Abigail enclosed was published by Samuel W. Fores on 28 May and depicted a trio of London women with the exaggerated profiles that marked the silhouette of the day. The “pouter pigeon” look was a short-lived trend of a fashion era known for its constantly changing designs. Also depicted are oversized hairdressings, a longer-lived and more frequently lampooned fashion element of the era (Mary Dorothy George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, London, 1938, 6:380–381; Diana Donald, The Age of Caricature: Satirical Prints in the Reign of George III, New Haven, Conn., 1996, p. 87, 90).

The reign of George III is rightly called the Age of Caricature, and fashion and culture were popular subjects. In addition to providing entertainment and warning women on what looks to avoid, caricatures were moral statements about the excesses of fashion. An underlying theme of condemnation was not lost on Abigail Adams, who told Elizabeth Cranch that Americans should not emulate the women of London. “Pray does the fashion of Merry thoughts, Bustles and protuberances prevail with you,” Abigail wrote. “I really think the English more ridiculous than the French in this respect. They import their fashions from them; but in order to give them the mode Anglois, they divest them both of taste and Elegance. Our fair Country women would do well to establish fashions of their own; let Modesty be the first, ingredient, neatness the xvsecond and Economy the third. Then they cannot fail of being Lovely without the aid of olympian dew, or Parissian Rouge” (Donald, The Age of Caricature, p. 85–86, 89, 93; Abigail Adams to Elizabeth Cranch, 18 July 1786, below).

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Baker Baker Estate and Durham University Library, England.