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Hats

Records provide no visual information and very few written references to the type of hats Thomas Jefferson may have worn or preferred. Of the portraits made from life, none show him wearing or holding a hat and most contemporary references to Jefferson's appearance were occasioned by meetings or introductions happening indoors, and thus in situations where a gentleman would not be wearing a hat.

One observer who did describe President Jefferson in an outdoor setting, standing on the steps of the President's House in attendance on July 4th festivities in Washington, noted that he was hatless: "He stood without his hat and his white locks waved in the breeze. How simple, how august, and venerable, was the appearance of this good and great man!"1

During his years as Vice President and President, Jefferson made entries in his accounting records of purchases of hats; however, these entries are not explicit as to whether the hats were personal purchases or purchases for family members, slaves, or servants. Only one entry, dated July 12, 1802, specifically notes that payment was for a hat being repaired for Jefferson himself: "Dean repairg. hat for myself 1.25."2

It was not until late in Jefferson's life that two mentions were made of headwear. Daniel Webster visited Monticello in 1824 and said of the former President, "His whole dress is neglected but not slovenly. He wears a common round hat."3 The round hat or slouch hat with a high crown and mid to wide brim had more utilitarian than fashionable roots, as traditionally it had been worn primarily for protection from sun and rain. Long associated with the working classes of England, it had been adopted by the English gentry as a riding hat and during the last quarter of the eighteenth century made its way into fashion. The round hat became popular in France during the revolution as a signal of republican sympathy and could have found its way into Jefferson's wardrobe for a similar reason. By 1824, the fashionable version of the round hat had metamorphosed into the top hat, which retained its fashion superiority throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. That Jefferson still wore the round hat in 1824 would indicate a disregard of the latest fashion trends.

A rather strange description of Jeffersonian headwear was recorded in 1822: "He was mounted on a elegant horse going with speed—and he had no hat on but a lady's parasol, stuck in his coat behind, spread its canopy over his head .... I am told he always rides in this manner during the summer without any hat."4 As a young man, Jefferson's hair was red and portraits indicate the fair skin that often accompanies hair of this color. A visitor to Monticello in 1814 said of Jefferson: "He is quite tall, six feet, one or two inches, face streaked and speckled with red, light grey eyes, white hair ...."5 It is quite probable that the sun had been a problem for Jefferson throughout his life and at the age of seventy-nine, he opted for the parasol as an unusual but practical solution.

The only hats still extant that are known to have belonged to Jefferson are a simple linen nightcap and a close fitting cloth cap with bobcat fur.6 Both would have served the utilitarian purpose of keeping the head warm. There are many Jefferson references to the "rigorous season" of winter, and he once wrote: "I have often wondered that any human being should live in a cold country who can find room in a warm one."7 He confessed to his son-in-law, "In fact I should be delighted to own a cotton estate in Georgia, and go and pass every winter under the orange trees of that country."8 Understandably, Canada held no attractions for him: "[T]he Canadian glows with delight in his sleigh & snow, the very idea of which gives me the shivers."9 A fur-lined cap could be a welcome accessory to one so sensitive to the cold.

- Gaye Wilson, 2/2001

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Personal Life

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