22 August 2017

"Hair receiver," "ratts," and ratting

I saw a group of these in a local auction and had to look up some information:
Although rare today, the hair receiver was a common fixture on the dressing tables of women from Victorian times to the early decades of the 20th century. Its purpose was to save hair culled from the hairbrush and comb, which were used vigorously on a daily basis. The hair could then be stuffed into pincushions or pillows. Since hair was not washed as often as it is today, oils were frequently used to add scent and shine to hair. The residual oil made the hair an ideal stuffing for pincushions because it lubricated the pins, making it easier for them to pierce material. Small pillows could be stuffed with hair, which was less prickly than pinfeathers.

But possibly most important, hair receivers made the creation of ratts possible. A ratt (sometimes spelled rat) is a small ball of hair that was inserted into a hairstyle to add volume and fullness. The ratt was made by stuffing a sheer hairnet until it was about the size of a potato and then sewing it shut.
The word "ratt" as a Victorian term for a hairdo enhancer is interesting because decades ago I remember girls "ratting" their hair with combs to give the hairdo greater size; IIRC it was a back-and-forth motion, but no hair extensions or padding was involved.  I presume the words are distantly related in terms of etymology.

Image credit.


  1. ratting was done with special combs with a long tapered handle that looked like a rat tail. also required hair spray, to keep that hair in place. of course, there was the associated old wives tale that ratting your hair would cause it fall out.


  2. My mom wore her hair in a bun around a rat back in rural Texas in the 1950s. I can send you a picture if you like.

  3. In 1950, I had a friend whose mother fixed her hair by coiling it around a rat--a cylindrical thing--I don't know if it was made out of hair, but I doubt it. It looked very uncomfortable to me.

  4. Of all the sites I visit, you never fail to entertain, educate, and delight me. Thank you.

    1. ...and delight me the most.

    2. You're quite welcome. I'm pleased to get the feedback.

  5. You can buy equivalents in the hair notions aisle still; look at BumpIts or plastic/foam hair donuts.


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