Flirtatious Fans

Flirtatious Fans

Did you know that twirling a fan in the left hand was a warning as it ‘we are being watched’ whereas twirling it in the right meant ‘I am interested in someone else’. Yesterday I mentioned that how fans were held had a language. I thought I would expand a little on this for fans in the past have been more than costume accessories. In the Victorian period a fan opened wide sent a signal to ‘wait for me’ whereas fanning quickly meant push off as you were engaged. Of course this flirtatious language is no longer used but Jane Marie Malcolm has provided a brief article about the history of using fan positions as a method of signalling someone your intentions.

Hand held fans have a long history In Europe but they date back to ancient Egypt. See the Fan Circle International for articles on the history of fans including fans in Japan and China. Asia of course has a much longer history associated with hand held fans. Japanese prints and fans influenced western art

Fans can be made of fabric such as silk , paper, lace or vellum and wood. Bone, and horn, ivory, mother of pearl and tortoiseshell, are no longer used in the construction of fans but feathers are.

The Fan Museum in Greenwich holds 3,500 fans in its collection. In their temporary exhibition section I found a small article on an exhibit of contemporary fans online. In the United states the Hand Fan Museum of Healdsburg has a few of its fans online.

The Fan Association of North America would be of interest to anyone who is interested in exploring this further as it is an organization which promotes the study of fans.

So the next time you have a look at all those stodgy Victorian paintings take a look at what position the women are holding a fan in their hands you may read the image differently from how the curator did!

One comment

  1. Browsing on the web for “hand fans” I find this interesting and well documented contribution. I just want to add that the so-called “fan language” was mostly a marketing invention of fan sellers at the end of 19th century. On our (french) website “Place de l’Eventail” (“Fan Place”), you can find a lot of pages in english, more in french, dozzens of links and a quite comprehensive bibliography.

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