How George Washington did his hair
How George Washington did his hair "The Washington Family" painted by Edward Savage. (Smithsonian/Wiki Commons)
How George Washington did his hair
Lexile: 800L

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George Washington's hairstyle is iconic and simple enough that most Americans can probably recall it in an instant. Or they can at least refresh their memory by pulling out a dollar bill or a quarter. It was pulled back from his forehead and puffy on the sides. It was colored gray-white, perhaps like many wigs of the day. But Washington never wore a wig. At National Geographic, Robert Krulwich writes that he was stunned to learn this fact. It came from Ron Chernow's book, Washington: A Life. Krulwich explains:
"Turns out, that hair was his. All of it. The pigtail, the poofy part in the back, that roll of perfect curls near his neck. What's more, though you probably already guessed this, he wasn't white-haired. There's a painting of him as a young man, with Martha and her two children, that shows his hair as reddish brown, which Chernow says was his true color."
The painting is The Courtship of Washington by John C. McRae. It was painted in 1860, long after Washington's death in 1799. But a project out of the University of Virginia called The Papers of George Washington also confirms that the first president's natural hair color was light brown. 

The style he favored wasn't fancy, though it may appear so to modern eyes. It was a military style called a queue. It was "the 18th-century equivalent of a marine buzz cut," Krulwich writes. With charming illustrations, artist Wendy MacNaughton brings to life Washington's routine. It included the gathering, enthusiastic yank back. That was to try and broaden the forehead. Then there was the fluffing of the hair on the side and the powdering.
Even if Washington didn't wear a wig, as some of his contemporaries sported, he did powder his hair. It gave it that white look. It may also have been the fashion in America to wear less elaborate wig styles, if one wore a wig at all. 

By the late 18th century, wigs were starting to go out of style. So Washington could have been fashion-forward in his military simplicity. Still, the powdering was a chore. It involved a robe to protect clothes and a cone to protect the face. Sometimes special bellows were used to puff the powder evenly. But Washington's use of powder raises a question. How did he avoid the look of permanent dandruff? Krulwich writes:
"Betty Myers, a master wigmaker at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, says that's why Washington bunched his ponytail into a silk bag. To keep from leaving a white windshield wiper splay of powder on his back when he was dancing with the ladies, which he liked to do. As for keeping the powder off one's shoulders? How Washington did that, if he did do that, nobody could tell me. Probably every powder-wearing guy in the 1760s knew the secret. But after a couple of centuries, whatever Washington did to stay spotless is lost to us."
It's possible that the same solution that helped Washington's hair rolls stay fluffy also kept the powder sticking. With greasy hair and lots of pomade. Bathing and washing hair frequently wasn't a popular activity so powders also solved the problem of smelly unwashed heads. They were perfumed. It's a good thing fashions change.

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Why do we remember George Washington’s hair as white?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • sams1-ver
    2/17/2016 - 08:48 a.m.

    i don`t see how knowing this is useful

  • maggies1-smi
    2/17/2016 - 09:29 a.m.

    The reason people remember George Washington's hair as white is because back in those days everyone would where white wigs.

  • trinitya1-smi
    2/17/2016 - 09:29 a.m.

    People have different style so mabey he didn't want brown hair people have different tast

  • kenziel-hol
    2/17/2016 - 12:04 p.m.

    Awesome topic man

  • yujessica1-cru
    2/17/2016 - 12:13 p.m.

    We all remember George Washington's hair as white because in pictures it shows that Georges hair is white. Washington's hair was actually a light brown, but was powdered white. Also on $bills and on many types of money the image of Washington shows that his hair is white. Many people remember his hair as white when they see images and pictures of his hair.Now after reading this article I am stunned to know that Washington's hair was originally light brown.

  • elaerak-eri
    2/17/2016 - 12:51 p.m.

    Why didn't Washington wear a wig?

  • elaerak-eri
    2/17/2016 - 12:54 p.m.

    Because paintings show that his hair is white!!

  • marionm-eri
    2/17/2016 - 12:56 p.m.

    We remember his hair as white because he put white powder on it, and always appeared that way. According to paintings and research his hair was actually brown.

  • brycej-eri
    2/17/2016 - 12:56 p.m.

    People just painted his hair white but really he has reddish Brown hair.

  • marionm-eri
    2/17/2016 - 12:56 p.m.

    How did researchers figure out that his hair was brown?

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