Rituals I - The Fan
Fans were not only a fashion accessory, but a means
of flirtatious communication. Wherever young men and
women intermingled, the click of a fan sent a message.
The Young Ladies Journal of 1872 reported on the
significance of each charming gesture:
- Fan fast - I am independent
- Fan slow - I am engaged
- Fan with right hand in front of face - come on
- Fan with left hand in front of face - leave me
- Fan open and shut - kiss me
- Fan open wide - love
- Fan half open - friendship
- Fan shut - hate
- Fan swinging - can I see you home?
- Twirling in right hand - I am watching you
- Drawn slowly across the cheek - I love you
- Resting fan on right cheek - yes
- Placing the fan behind your head - don't forget me
- Touching the fan against your left ear - go away!
"The fan's novel feature was its ability to open and close 'at a touch',
thereby providing that essential element of fashion - surprise," says Anna
Gray Bennett in her book "Unfolding Beauty: The Art of the Fan". Women of
high society owned many fans, simple ones for church and richly ornate
evening designs embellished with jewels, gilt, and lace.
The leaves of most fans were made of a fine paper, vellum, or silk and
were painted with opaque watercolor scenes. The support of the leaves were
usually made of ivory, tortoiseshell or mother of pearl. In any case,
antique fans are extremely delicate and light sensitive.
At the opera, if a woman grew restless watching the performance, she could
turn her fan and spy on other audience members through the peeping holes. And
sometimes there were song lyrics or riddles written in tiny script. Admiring
such details on a woman's fan was one of the ways a gentleman could sit close
to a woman.
By the late 1890's, women no longer kept their tongues
silent, fans carried no modest message, but bold
statements were made with huge feathered fans by Lillian Russell
and others as they swaggered across the stage.