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Friday, June 25, 2010

THE LANGUAGE OF THE FASHIONABLE FAN ©



By Polly Guerin, RWA’s Fashion Historian



Fans were once the language of lovers, communicators of emotion, and declarations of approval, and most essential the dress of no fashionable lady’s attire in the 18th century would be complete with the addition of a fan. This little accessory takes its significant place in history as the instrument of intrigue, love and scandal that it was aptly termed “the woman’s scepter.” Poets have written prose to it and minstrels sang ditties of praise to its pleasurable interaction with the opposite sex. The fan therefore can be an appropriate accessory for writers of the Victorian or Belle Époque genre, as well as the Art Deco era.

THE PRETTY COOLER

Imagine the world without air conditioning. Be it made of lace, ivory, painted silk or gem encrusted, the fan was an essential accessory in a stuffy, crowded ballroom. The years 1880-1890 were the Golden Age of the fashionable fan and ladies of the court and other royal pretenders counted on their elegant fan to communicate their heart’s desire. The fan has a long and storied history. There were fans for every occasion, painted or printed with picturesque landscapes, romantic images and most effectively as instruments of advertising. During the second half of the 19th century, most fans were manufactured to promote the railroad, spas, restaurants, cabarets, and magnificent perfume fans appear around 1910. Thousands of fashionable fans were also manufactured between 1900 and 1940 declining slowly after WWII to become a trickle today.

FLUTTER, FLUTTER

The fluttering fan charmed and entertained, but much more elaborate was the etiquette of the fan, which was prescribed to describe a variety of emotional flutters: the angry flutter, the confused flutter, the angry flutter, the merry flutter and the amorous flutter to name a few. Young ladies were therefore instructed on the proper ways to handle their fan, and if they failed to do so they were looked upon as being gauche and of the most bourgeois sort. In the 18th century, ladies used the fan for more than keeping cool. Supposedly, there even existed a “language of the fan’ whereby ladies could send a message across the room without saying a word. It was essential therefore to be quite clear what message a lady wanted to convey.

A LADY’S BODY LANGUAGE

The fan became an essential part of a woman’s body language. It could reveal or conceal a host of female emotions. The fan had significance when placed in specific positions. Placed near the heart it meant: “You have won my love.” A closed fan touching the right eye: “When may I be allowed to see you?” The right hand in front of the face: “Follow me.” A half-opened fan pressed to the lips: “You may kiss me.” Hiding the eyes behind an open fan: “I love you.” Opening a fan wide: “Wait for me.” Twirling the fan in the left hand: “We are being watched.” Fanning slowing can deter a swain’s attentions. Fanning quickly indicated: “I am engaged. Fanning slowing meant: “I am married.” Woe is it to the woman who did not follow the rules of fan etiquette for the right position was essential to attract or disengage a suitor.

IF TRUTH BE TOLD WHEN THE FAN RULED OVER ROMANTIC ETIQUETTE THERE WAS HARDLLY ANY EMOTION IN THE MIND THAT DID NOT PRODUCE A SUITABLE AGITATION IN THE FAN.♥




Polly Guerin honed her skills as an Accessories Editor at the trade fashion bible, Women’s Wear Daily and later taught product knowledge as professor at The Fashion Institute of Technology, where her definitive textbook and video production, Creative Fashion Presentations, is used even today. In 2009 she was a vice-president of RWA/NYC and currently serves as a board liaison. Visit her at http://www.pollytalk.com/.

5 comments:

  1. It must have been so much fun to flirt with a fan and the gentlemen callers. Just think -- one flick of a wrist and one could easily dismiss an ardent suitor or welcome one.

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  2. FANS?? I LOVE FANS...

    I have an assortment..and I use them on a regular basis.

    thank you Polly..Once again you amaze.

    Patt

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  3. Love the fans. They are a great thing to hide behind. I also think they make great wall decorations.

    Thank you Polly for sharing this and reminding us of the beauty of the past.

    Karen

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  4. Wonderful article and so informative. I had no ideas how much a wave of a fan can convey!
    My paternal grandmother had a nice collection of fans from Spain. They were painted with pastoral and love scenes. I also bought fans in Spain. It's amazing how women in different cultures used fans. Thank you.
    Cathy G

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  5. I love this, thanks for sharing, Polly! I've been intrigued by the language of the fan since I first heard of it, and have even used it in some of my historical tours. I allude to it in "Strangely Beautiful" but alas since Percy is so odd, no one ever thought she'd use this language, so no one ever taught her. It's the one language she doesn't know! And yet she sees the signals being cast all around her. I love the dance of subtlety and meaning in the language of the fan, and I really enjoy it when I see it used in historical fiction.

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