Rolled Coiffures of the 1860s, featuring Rats, Cats, and Mice for the Hair

Rolled Hairstyles, Le Miroir Parisien, 1864.
(Met Museum)

During the 1860s, ladies often wore their hair rolled back at the sides and at the nape of their neck. These rolls were usually created using false hair or “rats.” A rat was a homemade hairpiece made from the hair collected from a lady’s brush each evening. It was used to pad out the rolls and to help them keep their shape. Since it was made from a lady’s own hair, it provided the best match in color and texture.

Some rolled hairstyles of the 1860s were incredibly elaborate. According to the May 1863 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book:

“Perfect scaffoldings of hair are now built on the head— roll upon roll — puff upon puff.”

Clarissa Coiffure and Morny Headdress.
Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1864.

Such coiffures required more than a few rats to pad out their many rolls. Godey’s describes a style which used “two rats, two mice, a cat, and a cataract.” It sounds a little like fashion sarcasm, but in fact, rats, cats, mice, and cataracts were all names for pieces of hair used to pad out various places on one’s head. As Godey’s explains:

“The rats are the long frizetts of curled hair for the side rolls; the mice are the smaller ones above them; the cat is for the roll laid over the top of the head; and the cataract is for the chignon at the back of the head— which is sometimes called waterfall, cataract, and jet d’eau.”

In my newest Victorian romance A Holiday By Gaslight there is a scene in which the heroine uses rats to style her younger sister’s hair into a waterfall of rolls. The style described is based on an actual hairstyle from 1863 (pictured below), in which the hair was rolled at the sides, with three rolls stacked at the back. The whole was then ornamented with fresh flowers and greenery.

Le Moniteur de la Coiffure, 1863.
(Met Museum)

As an alternative to rats (and mice and cats), many ladies of the 1860s employed false hair or pads. These came in various shapes and sizes and, much like rats, could be rolled into a lady’s coiffure to add thickness and to help the roll hold its shape. False hair, pads, and rats were secured into the hair with hair pins. The whole coiffure could then be sprayed with liquid bandoline. Made of clear gum solution, liquid bandoline was the Victorian equivalent of hairspray.

*Author’s Note: A hairstyle known as “Cats, Rats, and Mice” is mentioned in Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone With The Wind. I don’t have anything more about that specific style on my blog, but If you’d like to learn more about Victorian hairstyles in general, please see these articles from my archives:

A Fashionable Coiffure: Rolls, Plaits, and other Popular Hairstyles of 1863

A Simple Coiffure: Basic Hairstyles for Victorian Women of Moderate Means

Gold and Silver Hair Powders for Fashionable Victorian Coiffures

Victorian Hairspray: A Brief History of Gum Solutions and Bandoline

Mimi Matthews is the USA Today bestselling author of The Matrimonial Advertisement, The Pug Who Bit Napoleon, and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law.

Sources

Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine. London: S. O. Beeton, 1860-1863.

Godey’s Lady’s Book. Philadelphia: Louis A. Godey, 1860-1865.

Ladies Companion’ and Monthly Magazine. London: Rogerson and Tuxford, 1861.

Matthews, Mimi. A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2018.

COMING SOON
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John Eyre
A Tale of Darkness and Shadow

From USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews comes a supernatural Victorian gothic retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s timeless classic.

Yorkshire, 1843. When disgraced former schoolmaster John Eyre arrives at Thornfield Hall to take up a position as tutor to two peculiar young boys, he enters a world unlike any he’s ever known. Darkness abounds, punctuated by odd bumps in the night, strange creatures on the moor, and a sinister silver mist that never seems to dissipate. And at the center of it all, John’s new employer–a widow as alluring as she is mysterious.

Sixteen months earlier, heiress Bertha Mason embarked on the journey of a lifetime. Marriage wasn’t on her itinerary, but on meeting the enigmatic Edward Rochester, she’s powerless to resist his preternatural charm. In letters and journal entries, she records the story of their rapidly-disintegrating life together, and of her gradual realization that Mr. Rochester isn’t quite the man he appears to be. In fact, he may not be a man at all.

From a cliff-top fortress on the Black Sea coast to an isolated estate in rural England, John and Bertha contend with secrets, danger, and the eternal struggle between light and darkness. Can they help each other vanquish the demons of the past? Or are some evils simply too powerful to conquer?

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“In this thrilling remix of Charlotte Brontë’s work, Matthews skillfully transforms a well-known story into a truly original tale.” -Kirkus Reviews

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Ellen
Ellen
2 years ago

I’m so thankful to not have to know how to do these hair styles! :) Thanks for sharing this… it is so interesting!

CeeLee
CeeLee
2 years ago

It seems they used hair extensions just like we do today! Can’t wait for the book release next week,
and I will stay up late to finish it. Love your work, thank you for sharing your gifts! :-)

Anne
Anne
2 years ago

Fascinating post! Thank you Mimi!

Candy
Candy
2 years ago

You mean there’s a use for the long curls I shed each time I wash my hair! LOL!

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