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Bill Barker, one of Colonial Williamsburg’s star interpreters, specializes in being Thomas Jefferson. Some Williamsburg costumes are generic, while others, like Barker’s are specific to the characters, for he actually is an actor playing the role of Jefferson in a whole repertoire of historical speeches and Q & A sessions with visitors to the re-created city. Curators, specialists in eighteenth-century costume, study portraits, early manuscript store orders, a whol library of prints and even drawings to document the designs. Tailored to what is known about Jefferson’s taste in clothes, Barker’s costumes follow the highest standards of authentic textile and construction.

President Jefferson ordered costly textiles for upholstery and curtains, but took little interest in fine fabrics for his clothes. Bill Barker represents Jefferson here in a blue linen frock coat, walking with a lady in the garden of the colonial Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg. Costumes and characters blend with the re-created colonial period scene to kindle the twenty-first century visitor’s imagination.

Barker demonstrates Jefferson’s great ability in the saddle, taking a brief ride, bootless, in a quite unequestrian frock coat of gray silk trimmed in white and gray and wool breeches.

The need for evening clothes inspired Williamsburg’s costume department to create this fine 1770s style coat of satin-weave silk, embroidered with gold metal threads. The breeches are of figured aqua colored silk.

Barker’s Jefferson booted for a ride and wearing a red linen waistcoat designed upon the one Jefferson is shown wearing in John Trumbull’s 1818 panoramic painting The Declaration of Independence, which hangs in the U.S. Capitol.

Barker represents Jefferson the president, in a Federal period styled wool coat, with a waistcoat of pink silk, and silk breeches woven hard-surface, much like taffeta.

This article was originally published in White House History Number 32 Fall 2012

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