Wigs

The account book of Edward Charlton, a Williamsburg wig maker, supplies evidence that Thomas Jefferson purchased wigs and hair pieces early in his professional career. Charlton's records, now in the Colonial Williamsburg Archives, show that between April 15, 1769, and April 25, 1773, Jefferson purchased a brown "Dress Queue," a brown "Tye Wig," two brown "Dress Bob-wigs," two "pairs of curls," and three pounds of hair powder.[1]

It is not certain whether Jefferson continued to wear wigs following these dates. His memorandum books, however, indicate that he continued to purchase hair powder and pomade, a fragrant hair dressing. The memorandum books also record that in 1775, while traveling from Williamsburg to Philadelphia, Jefferson purchased a "hair-bag" in Fredericksburg on June 13: "Pd. in Fredsburgh. For a hair-bag 4/."[2] As early as the 1720s, a popular variation of the full-bottomed wig, or "periwig," was to tie the wig hair back and secure it in a small, black, draw-string bag. The secured wig rested at the nape of the neck and was called a "bag-wig." Later in the century, as men began to rely more on their natural hair, the bag was often retained to secure the ends of the hair and continued to be fashionably worn into the 1780s.[3] It is possible this was the purpose of the "hair bag" purchased by Jefferson in 1775.

While Jefferson was serving as the United States envoy in Paris from 1784-1789, an observation by Abigail Adams indicated that he may have preferred to have his own hair dressed in the fashion required at the French Court rather than wear a wig: "His Hair to

o is an other affliction which he is tempted to cut off. He expects not to live above a Dozen years and he shall lose one of those in hair dressing. Their is not a porter nor a washer woman but what has their hair powderd and drest every day."[4]

Apparently by 1804, Jefferson had followed the temptation to cut off his hair, as noted by Senator William Plumer: "I found the President dressed better than I ever saw him at any time when I called on a morning visit. . . . His hair was cropt & powdered."[5] Gilbert Stuart's "medallion profile" of Jefferson, painted in June 1805, shows the hair cut rather short and loosely curled at the hairline and over the forehead. This was not out of keeping with the current trend, as by the last decade of the eighteenth century more and more fashionable men were wearing their hair short.[6]

Thomas Jefferson in 1821 (1856 copy). Thomas Sully. Thomas Jefferson Fndtn.Even though Jefferson had fashionably shorter hair, he continued to use hair powder. After retirement to Monticello, he wrote to his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph in Philadelphia, "I must pray you to put half a dozen pounds of scented hair powder into the same box. none is to be had here, & it is almost a necessary of life with me."[7]  It is difficult to determine how long Jefferson continued to powder his hair. There are no specific references to hair powder in his memorandum books after January 1799; however, hair powder could easily have been included in other purchases, just as his 1809 request of his grandson was included in a long shopping list. An examination of the 1821 Thomas Sully portrait of Jefferson may indicate that he had given up the habit of hair powder in his advanced years, as Sully captures streaks of his natural red hair mixed with gray.

- Gaye Wilson, 7/99

Further Sources

Sherrow, Victoria. Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.

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