(click image to enlarge)
By the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, London had, perhaps unsurprisingly, developed a largescale tailoring industry, catering to many sectors of society. However, alongside it ran a market in second-hand clothing, which was patronised by the mass of the middle and lower classes. There were second-hand shops across London, but some areas were especially known for them, including Houndsditch and Smithfield. That Rowlandson’s image depicts such a shop is suggested by a watercolour study for the present work, which is held in the collections of the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco and is entitled A Tailor’s Shop. Above the door in that study is a sign with the inscription, ‘Peter Smith buys & sells old clothes. Gentlemen fitted in the most fashionable taste’. So it seems likely that this gentleman is being fitted into something not originally made for him. It is yet to be ascertained whether or not Peter Smith was a real dealer in second-hand clothing.
The Fine Art Museums of San Francisco also holds a variant on this watercolour entitled The Tailor's Dilemma.