We had a question about mustached U.S. presidents in our trivia game last night, which we got right, but got wrong on a technicality. We were supposed to have named only one president, but named two instead. It got me thinking about presidents’ hair, facial hair, powdered wigs, etc. I had to learn the names of every U.S. president when I was in third grade, and it’s something I’ve never forgotten since then (it comes in handy during more trivia games than I can count).
This list is based on presidents’ appearance in their official presidential portraits. Or whatever other portrait suits the purposes of this blog about hairstyles!
Without further ado, let’s get started with…
The Bearded/Mutton Chopped Presidents
Rutherford B. Hayes
Hayes was second in a series of four consecutive U.S. presidents sporting beards, sideburns, or mutton chops in their presidential portraits.
Clearly, the 1870s was a time when U.S. voters wanted a bearded guy in the White House. Unless you were one of the 264,292 voters whom, when presented with the Tilden/Hayes challenge at their local grocery stores, said they preferred Tilden over Hayes. The 1876 election was controversial in that Hayes (who became president #19) won the electoral votes – but not the popular vote.
The “Pepsi Challenge” of the day… Samuel Tilden was victim of a gypsy curse and was unable to grow a beard (or win a presidential election). Do not piss off gypsies! He was the only non-bearded adult male in the 1870s!
Poor James Garfield just couldn’t get a break. Not only was Rutherford B. Hayes’ beard more substantial than his, but he wasn’t even the first to die in office (William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor and Abraham Lincoln all accomplished this before he did). And their ghosts will NOT shut up about it (trust me on this one). And to top things off, he has a cheesy cartoon cat named for him. Like Garfield the cat, James A. Garfield was also rumored to hate Mondays – and love lasagna!
Chester A. Arthur
Mr. Arthur’s mutton chops could hold their own with any beard of the day. In the Great Beard Battle of 1882, mutton chops were the champion, but Team Beard reclaimed the title the following year, though Team Mustache’s eventual dominance and supremacy was waiting in the wings! He is one of two presidents to have been born in Vermont (Calvin Coolidge is the other), and one of eight presidents to have become president because of a president dying in office. Calvin Coolidge did that, too – and his Daddy swore him in!
Benjamin Harrison, president #23. His main distinction was having been the guy who served between Cleveland’s two terms. Also he was the grandson of William Henry Harrison, whom you probably remember best as “That president who died in 30 days.”
On the “I Love Lisa” episode of “The Simpsons,” there was a school musical about presidents. Here’s a bit about the “caretaker presidents,” including William Henry Harrison. This is one of my favorite episodes of all time…
Eleven-year-old Lincoln fangirl Grace Bedell wrote a letter to Lincoln in October, 1860 encouraging him to grow a beard. So he did it. He did not grow a matching mustache, however (he was kind of literal minded). He was assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theater in April, 1865 while watching Our American Cousin… If you tell your wife, “I’d rather die than go watch a stupid play,” well…! Be careful what you wish for!
Ulysses S. Grant
Grant may have hated being being sober – and naked around his soldiers, but he loved cigars, whiskey and laying siege to Vicksburg! He will not go down in history as being one of the best presidents because of all of that pesky corruption, but apparently he managed to write his memoirs before he died.
Martin Van Buren
Ah, the double punch – mutton chops, and some long (relatively speaking) frizzy locks! Mr. Van Buren, aka “Kinderhook,” was the only U.S. president to have spoken English as a second language. Hair styling was NOT his first language!
Who Wants a Mustache Ride? The Mustached Presidents
And here we go with the presidents who said no to the beard – but yes to the mustaches!
The very ironically named Grover Cleveland was neither a blue, furry “Sesame Street” character, nor was he born in Ohio. His name was also not Grover (his given first name was Stephen, his middle name was Grover). New York born, his main distinction was to have been the only U.S. president to serve non-consecutive terms (#s 22 and 24). And for the purposes of this blog, he was the first mustached U.S. president.
Roosevelt, #26, succeeded the non-bearded and non-mustached William McKinley, who was assassinated. Never one to be outdone, he not only survived an assassination attempt in Milwaukee in 1912, but kept on delivering the speech after he’d been shot. Bully on you, Mr. Assassin!
William Howard Taft
If you know you’re going to be the last mustached president, might as well make it count! Taft’s main distinction, besides this fabulous mustache, was having to have a special bathtub made for his portly frame, and for being the only U.S. president to have also served as a Supreme Court justice.
The Wig-Wearers (and the imitators)
A few U.S. presidents sported powdered wigs. Powdered wigs, apparently, could get so nasty that they would get animals living in them. Other presidents just made it look like they were wearing wigs with their own natural hair. Wigs were a popular way to hide the effects of not only baldness, but the scabs and hair loss associated with syphilis, too. Read more about that here
This is not an official presidential portrait, but proof that president #3 Thomas Jefferson was a slave to trends and decided to wear a powdered wig for a spell. He was actually a natural redhead, which according to South Park lore, means he had no soul.
Me attempting to look pensive (though touristy is more accurate) on the steps of Thomas Jefferson’s home, aka Monticello, near Charlottesville, VA in 2011.
President #2 John Adams opted not to wear a wig, probably because he didn’t have syphilis. Clearly he was not a hot enough commodity with the ladies to have contracted syphilis. He had a very interesting relationship with his wife, Abigail, with whom he exchanged lots of letters, some of which contained intellectual debates on topics including politics and government. I would totally love to see them going back and forth in a social media comments thread! Still wanting to be a slave to trends, Adams decided to try to emulate the “wig” look with his own hair. Which, unfortunately, did little to mask his whole “baldness” thing.
James Madison, president #4, was the shortest U.S. president at 5 feet 4 inches. He could probably be comfortably stowed in an overhead luggage bin on Air Force One. His wife, Dolley, is one of the most famous first ladies and was known for her social graces. Mrs. Madison is not only popular with history buffs, but with snack food aficionados who grew up in the 1970s.
Sigh. Dolly Madison cakes may have been liquidated by Hostess in 2012, but they will live forever in the minds and taste buds of any Gen-X kids who watched “Peanuts” specials, since Dolly Madison was a sponsor. Just as a little departure from this discussion about presidential hairstyles, here’s a listing of the “Peanuts” characters and the Dolly Madison pie wrappers they appeared on (because you KNOW this will be a trivia question someday – you’re welcome!):
Lucy was lemon-flavored because of her sour attitude…
Charlie Brown – cherry and banana crème
Linus van Pelt – apple
Lucy van Pelt – lemon
Schroeder – berry
Sally Brown – coconut crème
Frieda – chocolate
Peppermint Patty – strawberry and peach
Marcie – Boysenberry
George Washington, president numero uno, opted to powder his own long hair rather than wear a wig. This was proof positive that he didn’t have syphilis. He did have to wear false teeth, but that was out of necessity, not because he was trying to be trendy!
No beards, no wigs, no imitation wigs, no mustaches, ma’am (maybe just a tad bit of sideburn action)!
Taylor, a slavery opponent and former Mexican War general, was nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready.” Though he does not appear ready for a comb – or a dab of styling gel – anytime soon. He died in office in 1850, his body was exhumed more than a century later to determine if he could have been poisoned, results were inconclusive. The story is he ate a large quantity of cherries, and washed those down with milk – and water. What is certain is that a lot of drinking water at the time was in fact, not very drinkable – and he likely died of some kind of oh-shit-there’s-shit-in-the-drinking-water illness, aka cholera. The milk likely didn’t do his gastrointestinal tract any favors, either.
John F. Kennedy
President #35 John F. Kennedy sported a full head of hair. But then, he was the youngest of all of the men elected to the office of U.S. president. He was assassinated before he had a chance to start losing any of that luxurious hair, that Marilyn Monroe and so many of his other girlfriends probably loved to tousle. Such a man whore! Speaking of…
Here former Rhodes Scholar, Arkansas native and 43rd president Bill Clinton strikes a pose and shows off that feathered hair…
Once he left office, Lyndon Johnson (president #36) decided to take a cue from those Vietnam War protesting hippies and grow out his hair! For further study about this very consummate politician, look up “Johnson Treatment.” Oh all right…here’s a link here
And a picture!
Lyndon Johnson would occasionally whip out his…Johnson and show it to others!
Fourteenth president Franklin Pierce, imho, had the best hair of any of the U.S. presidents. He was also the only U.S. president born in New Hampshire, and probably the only one who could drink an entire fraternity under the table by himself. Besides Grant, of course…
No, this is not a presidential portrait. But I am going on the record here as saying I have a TOTAL crush on young William McKinley (president #25). Those smoldering eyes…and a slightly sneery pout! Kind of oozes bad boy! And just a slight cowlick (nobody’s perfect). He was assassinated at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY in 1901. I got into an argument with someone in a trivia game about this date. Guess who was right?