Ratcatcher

AKA: turnout shirt, informal hunt shirt

How to say it:  rat-kach-er

Traditional Features: 

Ratcatcher Shirt

 

  • shirt with tall stand collar or wrap collar
  • often comes with a self-coloured choker that sits over the collar and fastens at the back
  • can be long-sleeved, short-sleeved or sleeveless
  • often has a covered placket
  • semi-fitted through the body

Origins…

…of the style: The origins of the ratcatcher shirt are somewhat blurred. Sources say that the style was inspired by the clothes of the rat-catchers of Victorian England; the rat-catchers would wrap scraps of fabric or paper around their necks to protect them from being bitten by the disease carrying rodents they hunted.

At some stage (probably during the Victorian period) the style crossed over into Equestrian clothing and was worn as part of the informal hunt costume by men and women. In the modern Equestrian world the ratcatcher is still worn for informal hunts, and is also worn for certain events in show jumping/riding.

As for the fashion side of things, the ratcatcher has never made it to the mainstream. High collared, formally cut shirts that are reminiscent of the style do make it onto the marketplace fairly regularly, but I could not find any evidence that they were in any way influenced by the ratcatcher style.

…of the name: There are several theories behind the origin of the name ratcatcher. 

One source says that the informal hunting shirt got the name, because those that hunted informally were no better than the hunters of rodents or rat-catchers, which was considered to be a low-class profession.

Another source says that the name came from the rat-catcher or terrier-man who followed the hunt on foot with his dogs. The hunt rat-catcher would use his dogs to chase the fox out of hiding places much like the rat-catchers in the cities used terriers to catch the rodents and so a comparison was drawn between the two professions. The dress style of the city rat-catcher and the country terrier-man are said to be very similar and this is where the style apparently got its name.

A third source states that the term is used because the shirt was worn on informal hunts when foxes were out of season and the riders would literally hunt rats.

They all have merit, but I don’t know which theory is correct.

There is not a lot of conclusive information about the history of the Ratcatcher out there, but try this Wikipedia post, or this one, Google Groups, Answers.com  or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

Random Facts

  • ratcatcher was also an insult made popular by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. It is not widely used anymore.

21st Century Ratcatchers

The ratcatcher does not really exist outside of Equestrian circles, but there are plenty of shirts on the mainstream fashion marketplace that have a similar, tall stand collar and exude the same air of buttoned-up formality.

Alexander McQueen Ariat

Alexander McQueen, Ariat (actual Equestrian shirt)

Chloe J.W. Anderson

Chloé, J.W. Anderson

 

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