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Thomas Jefferson: Fashion Is Political, Politics Are Fashionable: A Hybrid Fellow’s Forum

February 15, 2023
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, 1329 Kenwood Farm
Charlottesville, VA 22902 United States








Thomas Jefferson: Fashion Is Political, Politics Are Fashionable.

A Hybrid Fellow’s Forum


Join our friends at Monticello Wednesday, February 15, 4-5 p.m. ET for a hybrid Fellow’s Forum with Chloe Chapin, Ph.D. candidate in the American Studies Program at Harvard University.

Attend in person click this link: Berkeley Conference Room, the Jefferson Library

To attend via Zoom, click here!


About the Talk

Of the thirteen portraits painted of Thomas Jefferson during his lifetime that depict his dress in color, six depict him wearing a blue coat and buff waistcoat (associated with the American revolutionary army), three show him wearing a red vest (associated with the Virginia Regiment), four show him in an all-black suit (associated with George Washington), and two show him in a fur-lined coat (associated with Rousseau). To Jefferson and his contemporaries, fashion did not exist outside of politics; fashion was politics. Moreover, American political philosophies were fashionable. Dress associated with the radical American project were to have as lasting an impact on the world as the revolutionary ideas they symbolized.

By the end of Jefferson’s life in 1826, the plain and uniform suit was well-established as a symbol of both masculinity and democracy, a legacy that still endures two centuries later. In 1786, when Jefferson’s likeness was first captured by Mather Brown, however, “plainness” was only newly associated with gender or nationality, and what plainness looked like was to change dramatically in the ensuing decades. In this talk, I explore the lasting impact that Jefferson, his portraits, and his ideas of “republican simplicity” had on ideas of dress, gender, and the capacity to be considered a citizen.

About Chloe Chapin

Chloe Chapin is completing her dissertation for the American Studies program at Harvard University, titled “The Sartorial Revolution: masculinity and civility in the American republic.” Prior to returning to graduate school, she spent twenty years as a professional costume designer. As a scholar, her work now explores the social and material history of identity, typically focused on the history of men’s suits. She holds master’s degrees in Design (Yale School of Drama), Fashion and Textile Studies (FIT), and History (Harvard). She has taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons, and Reed College, and has published articles in Dress and Fashion Theory. She has been a Fulbright Scholar, and held fellowships at the Smithsonian, Winterthur, MacDowell, the Huntington, and the American Antiquarian Society.


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