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Hand Fans

Ever since I was a little girl I've been intrigued by folding fans! The little sticks that open up to display beautiful hidden pieces of art, even they way they are articulated holds a certain charm. You can keep them on hand for a hot day, or more in keeping with their legacy as a decadent fashion accessory carry an exquiste example as simply an extra layer of glamour!

The folding fan originated in Japan and reached Europe around the 16th century where , it became an indispensable piece of a woman's wardrobe for centuries. Right up untill around the 1930's

The fan was all about display, it had it's own language which a lady could use to communicate silently across a ball room, the way she carried and moved her fan made a lady appear graceful and poised, even the gentlemen got in on the action in the early days !

Today sadly fans have sunk to a position of mere novelty, and quality fans are hard to come by , perhaps it's time we brought these beauties back!?

Holding the fan

The fan was a tool of personal display, it you weren't using it to talk you'd use it to show how elegant and refined you were. Information is hard to come by on this subject, but here are a few tips I've picked up!

  • Carrying when not in use: It seems there were many different ways to carry a fan elegantly when not in use, between the thumb and forefinger, or between the 1st and 2nd finger like in the plate opposite were the most common. The large plate below shows several women at an assembly in natural poses with their fans. Later fashion plates like this give a wonderful idea of how a fan was handled!
  • Make it Look Easy : Try to hold the fan lightly, back in the day even the most difficult action was supposed to look effortless!
  • Quietness was a Virtue: Keep your fan quiet! Too much playing or fluttering would have looked affected. If you're feeling a bit dandy however that might be just what you need! If you want your fan to say refinement however, try keeping movement slow and deliberate if at all.

The fan has always been about expressing yourself, back in the day every one wanted to be a "perfect lady" today maybe not so much. Your fan can be as loud or quiet as you want it to be!

Fashion Plate 1790's
Fashion Plate 1703
Harpers Bazaar 1892

Language of the Fan

The fan had a language all of it's own. Holding a fan up to your face in a certain way, could signal to a certain someone exactly what you thought of them! The codes were different between the 18th and 19th centuries, but here are a few useful signals from each!

Yawn behind your fan You bore me
Lift the fan to your right shoulder I hate you
Lower the closed fan towards the floor I scorn you
Closed fan lightly touching the right eye When will I see you?
Fan signaling towards yourself I want to be with you always
Threaten with a closed fan Don't be so bold
Fan raised in Right hand Are you faithful to me?
Slowly close the fan I agree with you
Hide your eyes behind the fan I love you!
Indicate towards the floor by you Come close to me
Point an open fan to the floor I hate you
Pressing your chin against a closed fan Sulking!
Point repeatedly to your forehead with closed fan Are you mad!?
Cover left palm with the open fan held in the right hand Keep it a secret
Hold the closed fan to your right ear I am listening to you
Close the fan repeatedly You are too bold
Hide your eyes behind your fan, with hand on heart I love you!

The fan can also tell people things subconsciously too. I know all to well how a fan could tell every one how nervous I felt at a certain time, or over excited, without even thinking about it the twirls and flutters shouted my frame of mind across a large room, so watch out for those unwilling to betray themselves this way!

Games With the Fan

The fan was so ubiquitous that it spawned not only it's own language, but also it's own games!

One activity was to create small poems where the first letter of each line spelled out "Eventail" the French word for fan, such as..

Every pretty coquette should know
Various flutters and codes of the fan
Every twist and every point
Not to be trusted to every beau
To any young fella who's eyes meet her own
Amorous fan you move for one heart
Indeed let him see what your lips fear to tell
Love tonight conquered by this fan alone

There was also a method of fortune telling! Ladies would out their closed fans into a pile, the person whose fortune was to be read pulled out a fan at random and opened it up. Their fortune would be told based on the number of blades and image on the leaf.

This was recorded in "the Satirical Journal" printed in Russia in 1790, I'm still trying to find out more, so if any one has any leads let me know!

Where can I use my fan today?

Every where!! A simple fan is a nice acompanyment on a hot summer day. A low key design won't make a casual outfit look drab, and will keep you feeling comfortable in Hot weather.

Going out to a party? Ramp it up! Look for fans with sticks as stunning as the leaf. A dazzling fan will set your outfit apart from the rest. At a more elegant evening party, match your fan to your dress, and treat it as a lady would back in the old days. A fan here can look elegant, and keep you cool. Think of your fan as a fashion accessory, and match it up the way you would your shoes!

I've taken mine with me every where from the punk clubs of England, to an evening at the Ritz. Beyond re-enactment and performance the fan can be as vital a fasion accessory today as it ever was!

I love to make my own fans! Here are some fans I've made, you can click on the images for a better look and more information. (I also sell them through my shop for clients custom orders)

I hope I've convinced you to add a fan to your wardrobe! This is just an overview of this fascinating subject. Check out some of the link bellow for eye candy and deeper information. We'll see fans come back to life yet!


Fans [F Tcherviakov 1999]

Harpers Bazaar 1892

Old English Costumes



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