8. Benjamin Franklin was feted as a true style icon when he visited France in the 1770s
Benjamin Franklin was 70-years-old when he was sent to France by the Continental Congress to seek military help for their revolution. But, just as his age didn’t stop him from being a great statesman or great inventor, neither did it prevent him from becoming a style icon. Indeed, Franklin was warmly embraced by the French public, even if many people were more interested in his hair and his clothes than in his political message.
Franklin was a truly savvy political operator. He knew, for example, that many people in France, including those in positions of power and influence, thought that all Americans were tough frontiersmen. Keen to play up to this image, Franklin arrived in Paris sporting plain clothes and a fur hat. The outfit was a huge hit. Wherever he went in France, Franklin made sure he had it on, and he was shown wearing it in many of the portraits painted of him between 1776 and 1778. And it wasn’t just the men of France who wanted to mimic this style. Women also started adopting the “coiffure a la Franklin”, a wig made to resemble the flaps of Franklin’s trademark hat.
The PR exercise was a triumph. In 1778, the United States and France signed a landmark treaty, paving the way for independence. Notably, at the signing ceremony, Franklin ditched the beaver fur hat that had made him such an unlikely style icon. Instead, he sported a plain white cap. Of course, this became a fashion smash, too. All over France, men started wearing white hats of their own for a short while. Franklin returned to America a political hero and a style icon.