Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Social Essential

It's a known fact that the fan was an essential accessory for the eighteenth century woman.   How else was one to gossip without attracting much notice, not to mention, survive the stifling heat of a room crowded with the creme de la creme of society.

The fan business was booming in the eighteenth century, so much so that there were specialized fan makers, and consequently, fan maker guilds across Europe.  The folding fan had originally arrived from China a century beforehand and was now the gold standard. Fans would either be made of paper or silk and painted by artists with cheerful rococo scenes.  Paper designs would be painted or printed for mass production.  Hand-painted silk fans were more one-of-a-kind, and therefore more in demand. If you were willing to drop some major money you could purchase a  fan complete with spangles or intricate carvings on mother of pearl, tortoise shell, or ivory slats.  So you could say fans were kind of like the eighteenth century version of bling.  The more money you spent the more blinged out you and your fan-language was.  Considering a fan could be the first thing a person notices on you, it might just be worth your while to go beyond your means in the effort to make a stunning first impression!


  1. I own one from Japan, but display it. I love these beautiful works of art.

  2. The fan has its own language, and mastering it is an art, worthy of the most sophisticated compliments ;)

  3. I should get one before I head off to uni on Saturday (packing for which explains my lengthy absence from this fabulous salon!)...

  4. There is an old eighteen century Portuguese book about «social manners».

    In the book, there was a chapter about a very intricate code on how to use your fan and what each movement was meant to say.

    I have found that book in my mother's collection and read it when I was about 16, and I remember thinking of what would happen to the ladies that did not read the book back then and were sending all the wrong signals...

    As example I can tell about 2 of the movements: if a lady closes the fan in a fast movement pointing to the floor that means «NO!» and if a lady closes the fan upward an let it settle gently on the left side of her bosom that means «My heart belongs to you».

    I also remember the sign for «I will meet you out after» but it is to complex for my poor domain of the English language.

  5. @Fabulastic, please tell me what the name of this esential book is. If there are any translations either in Spanish or in English please let me know!! :)

  6. Miss Hornete: Unfortunately I do not remember. As I wrote, I read it a long time ago in my teenage years.

    But after doing some thinking, I believe it was not actually a Portuguese book but a translation of a French book. It had some images with things written in French.