How George Washington did his hair "The Washington Family" painted by Edward Savage. (Smithsonian/Wiki Commons)
How George Washington did his hair
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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, 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 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, 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 to try and broaden the forehead, 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, a cone to protect the face and sometimes, special bellows to puff the powder evenly. But Washington's use of powder raises the 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 - 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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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do we remember George Washington’s hair as white?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (84)
  • jazlynt-1-ric
    2/16/2016 - 06:41 p.m.

    We remember George Washington's hair as white because everyone thought he wore a wig but he didn't. in the article it says "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 also says in the article that "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." And that is why we remember George Washington's hair as white.

  • victoriak-ver
    2/17/2016 - 08:31 a.m.

    Many paintings of him are shown as Washington having white hair.

  • biancat-ric
    2/17/2016 - 10:25 a.m.

    We remember George Washington hair as white because when he was the president he has had white hair. We also remember him with white hair because in pictures we always saw him with white hair.George Washington had always put powder in his hair.In the article it says"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. That's why we remember George Washington with white hair.

  • lukem-orv
    2/17/2016 - 03:06 p.m.

    Because when he was famous, he had white hair so everyone remembered him with white hair and plus, he put powder in it so nobody can see him without white hair.

  • alexr-6-ric
    2/17/2016 - 10:50 p.m.

    We remembers George Washington's hair as white because he had powder on. Washington used the powder because the dandruff. Washington used to have light brown hair as a kid but as he got older he put powder in his hair. The article said even if Washington didn't wear a wig he always powdered his hair. I'm actually surprised that is his real hair, I always thought it was a wig he wore.

  • emmagened-1-ric
    2/18/2016 - 10:04 a.m.

    We remember George Washington's hair as white because when he was alive people would always wear wigs. In paragraph 4 it is telling us that people were wearing wigs. "It may also have been the fashion in America to wear less elaborate wig styles." George Washington was known for his wigs, now that he was wearing them everyone was wearing them.

  • madelineg-1-ric
    2/18/2016 - 10:11 a.m.

    We remember George Washington's hair as white because on the dollar bill it appears white. Another reason we may remember Washington's hair white is because he powdered his real hair white. I can prove this because in paragraph 4 it states "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." George washington's natural hair color was light brown but he powered it to give it the illusion that it's white. The iconic thing is that it would seem like he would wear a wig, but infact it is his natural hair.

  • kristinaj-ric
    2/18/2016 - 10:12 a.m.

    We remember George Washington's hair as white because his hair appears white on the dollar bill. "Or they can refresh their memory by pulling out a dollar bill or a quarter.". George Washington's hair was real, it wasn't a wig. George Washington powdered his hair though. "Even if Washington didn't wear a wig, as some of his contemporaries sported, he did powder his hair.".

  • jennab-ric
    2/18/2016 - 10:13 a.m.

    We remember George Washington's hair being white because that was the latest pictures of him before he died. His original hair color is reddish brownish. we also remember him with white hair because that is what all the pictures look like. In paragraph 3 it talks about the famous paintings and that is also when he became president and we remember him with white hair because he had white hair when he was a president.

  • giovannig-1-ric
    2/18/2016 - 10:19 a.m.

    We remember his hair as white because the majority of his portraits have him in his white hair, as shown in one of the images of Washington with two ladies and a young girl and what looks to be a man in the background. There is also another picture that is not in color which also contributes to the fact of why we remember him with white hair. Another reason is because wigs were widely known during this time according to the passage.For that, everyone thought Washington wore a wig because wigs were not only decently popular but they were also known to be white. These are all reasons why Washington was thought to wear wigs.

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