21 June 2016

Communicating With Hand Fans

Besides being an important woman's fashion accessories, hand fans help to regulated air temperature, concealed flirtatious blushes, and protected a woman from insects and nature’s harsh elements.

They were also a most important courtship tool.  A common fan language, known to both women and men, developed from what seemed  to be innocent fan fluttering. Fan movements became a way to convey messages about emotions and love based on well-known etiquette rules. 

The more common fan movements and their meanings included:

  • A rested fan on the right check meant “yes” and on the left “no.”
  • Placing the handle of a fan to a woman’s lips or pressing a half-opened fan to the lips indicated a kiss was allowed.
  • A twirled fan in the right hand meant “I love another” but twirled in the left indicated “we are being watched.”
  • Shutting a fan fully and opening it slowly was a promise of marriage. 
  • A shut fan held to a woman’s heart meant the man had won her heart.
  • Fanning quickly meant a woman was engaged or in love.
  • Fanning slowly meant a woman was married

I am guessing that this woman and her fans had no problem communicating her intentions.

The kind of fan a woman owned was based on her social status ranging from one bought by street vendors or given away as advertisments

to those that were almost works of art - hand painted, mother of pearl, gold, precious jewels.

To educate yourself on the history of fans here are a few items to help you out:

The 18th Century: The Language of the Fans

Download for free a 311 page book "History of the Fan" by George Woolliscroft Rhead.

Article by Louisa Parr - "The Fan"
Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume 79, June to November 1889, pp 399-409

"The Fan Book" by Martin Percival

The History of the Fan

The Hand Fan Museum located in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California

All photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


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