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London's Latest Fashions

Royal, military and court costumes of the time of James I. Watercolor, early 17th century

Stephen Smith. Letter to Hugh Smith. Manuscript, 1622

Royal, military and court costumes of the time of James I. Watercolor, early 17th century

Sir Hugh Smith of Long Ashton, near Bristol, a well-to-do country gentleman, had been knighted by King James I in 1603. Renowned for his melancholic disposition, it is said that he cared for nothing but breeding horses and equipping himself with the latest London fashions. His god-son, Stephen Smith, lived in London and acted as his personal shopper, keeping him up-to-date on the contemporary styles.


The manuscript above is a communique between the two relatives concerning Sir Hugh's previous requests for scarlet hose to show of his "good leg," a scarlet suit, and Spanish boots. Stephen also writes of the latest fashions in summer doublets: "Your Taylor and I considered that canvas was only fit for summer....Canvas doublets are now much in request and they are all made plain or trimmed with white lace...."


The Folger has a series of nine autographed letters signed by Stephen Smith to his god-father, largely concerning fashionable goods he was purchasing or having made for Sir Hugh, including a dagger and a hanger for a wood-knife.



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The watercolors displayed above are only two of a large collection of illustrations once in an album amicorum, or "book of friendship." These albums are comprised of autographs, writings, and paintings collected from friends and bound together by the owner.


Travelers and students often kept these albums, collecting illustrations that documented the manners and costumes of different classes and countries.

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