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.


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.

March 1, 2021 – March 7, 2021

The Matrimonial Advertisement
Parish Orphans of Devon, Book 1

England, 1859. When ex-army captain Justin Thornhill places an advertisement for a wife, the mysterious lady who appears on his doorstep isn’t quite what he was expecting. 
Find out more or Read an Excerpt

Order Today

ebook: $0.99 $3.99 / paperback: $16.99 / audiobook: $21.99

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple | GooglePlay

Praise for The Matrimonial Advertisement

“For this impressive Victorian romance, Matthews crafts a tale that sparkles with chemistry and impresses with strong character development… an excellent series launch that will appeal to fans of Loretta Chase and Stephanie Laurens.” -Publishers Weekly

“Matthews’ series opener is a guilty pleasure, brimming with beautiful people, damsels in distress, and an abundance of testosterone…It’s a well-written and engaging story that’s more than just a romance.” -Kirkus Reviews

“Matthews has a knack for creating slow-building chemistry and an intriguing plot with a social history twist.” -Library Journal

“An intriguing plot and a haunting setting leaves the reader immersed in this impressive series launch.” -Barnes & Noble (20 Favorite Indie Books of 2018)

“I savored every word of this wonderful historical romance and didn’t want it to end.” -Jane Porter, NYT and USA Today bestselling author

“A heart-rending Gothic love story…The hero has the dark past of Mr. Rochester and the tightly leashed emotion of Mr. Darcy, but is a true romantic hero in every sense of the word. The historical atmosphere is top-notch, as is the writing. I loved it!” -Caroline Linden, USA Today bestselling author

“A highly enjoyable Victorian-sensation style romance…I enjoyed every minute of this warm, charming book.” -KJ Charles, editor and RITA-nominated author

© 2015-2021 Mimi Matthews

For exclusive information on upcoming book releases, giveaways, and other special treats, subscribe to Mimi’s newsletter THE PENNY NOT SO DREADFUL.

You can also connect with Mimi on Facebook and Twitter.

Notify of
Privacy Policy Consent
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
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!

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! :-)

2 years ago

Fascinating post! Thank you Mimi!

2 years ago

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

Our website uses cookies which may collect information about your visit to improve our website (anonymous analytics), to show you media (video and audio), targeted advertising, and social media feeds. Please see our Cookie Policy page for further details or agree by clicking the 'Accept' button.

Cookie settings

Below you can choose which kind of cookies you allow on this website. Click on the "Save cookie settings" button to apply your choice.

FunctionalOur website uses functional cookies. These cookies are necessary to let our website work.

AnalyticalOur website uses analytical cookies to make it possible to analyze our website and optimize for the purpose of a.o. the usability.

Social mediaOur website places social media cookies to show you 3rd party content like YouTube and FaceBook. These cookies may track your personal data.

AdvertisingOur website places advertising cookies to show you 3rd party advertisements based on your interests. These cookies may track your personal data.

OtherOur website places 3rd party cookies from other 3rd party services which aren't Analytical, Social media or Advertising.