What would George Washington look like if he were a modern-day politician? That question occurred to George Aquilla Hardy, a musician, 14 months into the pandemic. There he was at 23, stuck in his childhood bedroom in Dorset, England, instead of playing music festivals.
Because he had nowhere to be and he was sick of “looking at the same four walls,” Mr. Hardy said, he decided to try to answer his question with Photoshop. This is the result, which he posted on Reddit on May 2:
Since then he — and others — have posted and reposted it thousands of times on just about every social media platform. Many of the comments are silly. But Mr. Hardy’s creation — which he mocked up in about three hours — has also sparked genuine interest in the question that he started with: What would the first president of the United States look like if he were living in the era of online suit ordering and Instagram campaign ads?
It’s unlikely that a man who took so much pride in what he wore would have deigned to be seen in such an unremarkable suit, said Alexis Coe, a political historian and author of “You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington.”
“He was quite fancy,” she said. “I don’t think he would look as slick as Mitt Romney, but you would be able to recognize that it was well tailored. If he couldn’t wear Prada, he would probably have it custom made.”
Dean Malissa, who has been described as the “world’s greatest George Washington impersonator,” agreed that the first president “was a bit of a fashion plate.” He also tended to dress more formally than his peers. “When men of his day took their coats off when it was blistering hot, he kept his on,” said Mr. Malissa, a longtime portrayer of Washington at Mount Vernon.
Mr. Hardy does not know who designed the coat his George Washington is wearing, just that it was worn by Representative Roger Williams of Texas. He picked Mr. Williams as a base image for his Photoshop creation after searching online for “U.S. politician” and scrolling for a bit, he said. He then combined this image with photos of Glenn Close and Michael Douglas because an article on celebrities that look like historical figures made a compelling case to him that they had a bit of Washington in them.
Ms. Coe, the political historian, said that she did not see any of the 6-foot-2-inch Washington, known to carry himself like an athlete, in the narrow shoulders. Nor does she imagine that a man who put so much effort into his hair would be photographed looking like Mr. Hardy’s creation. (No, George Washington did not wear a wig, contrary to what many assume.)
What is accurate, she said, assuming that time travel did not somehow fix this for him, is the tight-lipped smile. The founding father had terrible teeth. He wore dentures cobbled together from ivory from walruses and hippopotamuses as well as slaves’ teeth procured by dentists who specialized in such things, she said. But even with the dentures in, he was self-conscious about opening his mouth.
As it turns out, Mr. Hardy was not the only person who has directed pandemic malaise into creating a modern close-lipped rendition of the man who presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Magdalene Visaggio, a comic book writer, posted this in January:
“I always had a hard time imagining George Washington as a person who was walking around and saying things,” she said as to why she made it, using a mobile phone face-swapping tool and a photo of President Biden.
Her primary objection to Mr. Hardy’s image was that Washington was only 67 when he died, but in the Reddit portrait “he looks super old.”
She also noted that although creating photos of people who died before photography existed is satisfying work, it’s difficult to get right. Recently, she has begun applying the lessons of her own modern Washington to creating a photo of Julius Caesar.