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.
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
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/.