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Jefferson on Display

Attire, Etiquette, and the Art of Presentation
G. S. Wilson

BUY Cloth · 308 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813941295 · $29.50 · Jun 2018
BUY Ebook · 308 pp. · ISBN 9780813941301 · $29.50 · Jun 2018

When we think of Thomas Jefferson, a certain picture comes to mind for some of us, combining his physical appearance with our perception of his character. During Jefferson’s lifetime this image was already taking shape, helped along by his own assiduous cultivation. In Jefferson on Display, G. S. Wilson draws on a broad array of sources to show how Jefferson fashioned his public persona to promote his political agenda. During his long career, his image shifted from cosmopolitan intellectual to man of the people. As president he kept friends and foes guessing: he might appear unpredictably in old, worn, and out-of-date clothing with hair unkempt, yet he could as easily play the polished gentleman in a black suit, as he hosted small dinners in the President’s House that were noted for their French-inspired food and fine European wines. Even in retirement his image continued to evolve, as guests at Monticello reported being met by the Sage clothed in rough fabrics that he proudly claimed were created from his own merino sheep, leading Americans by example to manufacture their own clothing, free of Europe.

By paying close attention to Jefferson’s controversial clothing choices and physical appearance--as well as his use of portraiture, architecture, and the polite refinements of dining, grooming, and conversation--Wilson provides invaluable new insight into this perplexing founder.


"An instant classic destined to endure as the authoritative account of how Thomas Jefferson affected the ways in which others envisioned him. This highly original and engagingly written work makes a substantial contribution to the literature on the third president."

Robert M.S. McDonald, United States Military Academy at West Point, author of Confounding Father: Thomas Jefferson's Image in His Own Time

International Center for Jefferson Studies historian G. S. Wilson uses a wide array of sources to reveal how Jefferson shaped his public persona to promote his political agenda.... Each calculated presentation was designed to strengthen his party and weaken his opponents, yet the accounts of Jefferson’s outrageous attire or his elegant occasions perhaps tell readers more about the persuasion of those who offered them.... Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.


In Jefferson on Display: Attire, Etiquette and the Art of Presentation author G.S. Wilson dives into the ways in which Jefferson and fellow founders of a new nation used the day’s complex language of wardrobe and grooming choices to express professionalism, independence and a new form of power.

Daily Progress

One of the most exciting fields in historiography is cultural history.Ranging beyond conventional boundaries of political history, culturalhistory can situate an individual in historical context.... One of the best recent contributions to cultural history is G. S. Wilson’s Jefferson on Display: Attire, Etiquette, and the Art of Presentation. Blending her experience as a clothing designer and costume historian with close and attentive research, Wilson branched out from studying Jefferson’s portraits to present this elegantly written, beautifully illustrated book.... The book is essential reading for students of Jefferson and his time.

Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Although navigating in the crowded sea of literature on Thomas Jefferson, G. S. Wilson, in Jefferson on Display, makes a substantial contribution to our knowledge of the man and his times.... [T]he strongest part of the book concerns Jefferson’s attire, reflecting the author’s own stated background as a clothing historian and costume designer. Wilson’s well-researched and clearly written book stands as an excellent addition to the Jefferson bibliography.

The Journal of American History

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