Despite all the familiar portraits depicting George Washington with white hair, America’s first President was closer to a natural redhead than many people realize. Though physical evidence is sparse, biographers have noted that the founding father boasted a reddish-brown mane. These darker locks can be seen in portraits of Washington as a young man, including paintings by artists Jean Leon Gerome Ferris and John C. McRae. There’s also a locket at Washington’s Mount Vernon estate containing a lock of reddish hair that was presented to Treasury Secretary Oliver Wolcott Jr. in 1797.
Another misconception about Washington’s hair is that he wore a white wig, which was a common style choice at the time. But Washington was blessed with a full head of hair as he aged, which he powdered to look like the popular wigs of the time (his natural hair color eventually faded from reddish-brown to gray). The white color was favored by military men, and Washington often kept his hair at shoulder length and would tie it behind his head in a ponytail or with a ribbon. He would then fluff out the sides to give the appearance of a wig, and grease the hair with pomade to add firmness to his fluffy curls. Lastly, Washington sprinkled a fine white powder over his scalp for color, and often bunched his ponytail into a silk bag to prevent the powder from dusting onto his back and shoulders.