Tag Archives: language of the fan

Choose Your Fan and Then Your Flutter: 1919


American Girls Reviving the Fan, That Fit Symbol of Fluttering Femininity

Approach of Period of Coquetry Foreseen in New Popularity of Long Fashionable Appendage

By Esther Harney

Fans are coming back into vogue again. They never go out of fashion, of course, for they are as old as coquetry, as gallantry itself. But today they are appearing in full blaze of glory, a sure sign, we are told, that an age of coquetry and extreme femininity is approaching as a reaction from the stern period of the war.

Manufacturers will tell you this news happily. Not for years have they had so many orders for fans of every description from the hand-made lace and tortoise shell varieties of the duchess to the little inexpensive chiffon spangled fan which the high school girls “perfectly adore” to flutter at school “hops.”

Manufacturers will also tell you that there could be no stronger evidence of a general return on the part of woman to her ancient arts and wiles than this reinstatement of the fan. (They are qualified to speak—of course.) During the war there was little time for fans and for femininity. Nor in that period which preceded the war did woman fancy fans; instead she preferred a riding crop or a tennis bat. It was not the fashion then, you will recall, to be delicate and feminine.

But today with all our boys returning from overseas from harsh scenes of war and from other scenes and adventures (oh, the reputed wiles of les belles Francaises), American women are beginning to realize that they must rise to the occasion. Femininity must rule supreme. (The soldiers like womanly women, they say.) and as a symbol of lovely femininity the women have taken up the fan.

International Imagination.

Then, too, American girls are looking to France these days. (They are trying to cultivate an international imagination, you know.) And among the French, fans are popular. With them, for instance, the wedding fan is an important item of the marriage trousseau. And was it not Mme. E Stael who recognized an art in the graceful handling of the fan? “What graces,” she wrote, “are placed in woman’s power if she knows how to use  a fan. In all her wardrobe there is no ornament with which she can produce so great an effect.” Verily the revival of the fan in American can be traced to the influence of France on the American doughboy…

Descended from Palm Leaf.

All ages have contributed to the history of the fan. It has it pedigree like everything else. If a thorn was the first needle, no doubt a palm leaf was the first fan. Standards of rich plumage were present when the Queen of Sheba paid homage to Solomon. Queen Elizabeth gave the fan a place of distinction and was the cause of prosperity among the fan-makers of her day. She is said to have had as many as 30 fans for her use. During her reign ostrich feather fans were introduced in England. Charlotte Corday of French evolutionary fame is said to have used a fan expertly : She held a fan in one hand while she stabbed Marat with a dagger which she held in the other hand.

Great painters of all ages have tried their hands at fans. One famous artist spent nine years completing a fan for Mme. De Pompadour, which cost $30,000. Period fans arose to commemorate events, follies and fashions of the day. Besides an intermediary in the affairs of love a fan became a vehicle for satire, verse and epigram.  

Coronation of Napoleon fan, 1807 http://data.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/id/object/117894

Coronation of Napoleon fan, 1807 http://data.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/id/object/117894

In the canons of “fanology” are described “the angry flutter, the modish flutter, the timorous flutter, the confused flutter, the merry flutter, the amorous flutter.” A flutter for every type, you see.

American girls should then first choose their fan and then their flutter. Perhaps they will revive the art of miniature fan painting as a new profession for women. They should, of course, remember that they can learn much of the art of the fan from Europe (except from Germany. Can you fancy a German woman flirting with a fan?) and plan to obtain their practice on the back porch some hot July evening. That will surely amuse their soldier callers. And at least we all can afford a fan of the palm leaf variety. But if we must take up the fan, the symbol of the new age that is before us, just we also take up the spirit of the age in which it was wafted victoriously? Must we be Victorian?

Boston [MA] Herald 10 May 1919: p. 15 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  And what, Mrs Daffodil wishes to know, is wrong with being “Victorian?” Alas, the author of this piece was entirely too sanguine about a return to femininity. Far from becoming more womanly, young persons shingled their hair, abandoned proper corsetry, smoked in public, and adopted sexually ambiguous costumes and attitudes. The queenly curves of the pre-War years gave way to a flattened feminine figure that caused many physicians to despair of the continuation of the species. Still, in one detail, the author was correct: The beaded and brilliantined females who thronged the night clubs, did carry fans—immense, vampish affairs of ostrich feathers or sequined chiffon–but recognizably fans. One might suggest that these accessories lent their name to the Girl of the Period: the Flapper.

For a school of “fan-ology,” see this post.  And for more details on how to select a fan, this post.

A vampish fan of the period.

A vampish fan of the period.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

A Lure In Fans: 1912


But a New York Woman Says They Must Be Used Rightly.

“Women who have traveled a good deal know best how to use the fan,” said the young woman. She had just returned from looking at a private collection of fans which in conjunction with other art objects belonging to the same owner was to be sold at auction the next day. In this, her line, this young woman was thoroughly informed. She could be trusted to lay in a stock of fans which would delight Fifth Avenue and the clientele which helps support Fifth Avenue stores, and, moreover, she knew how to appraise to a nicety the kind of customer suitable for a certain make of fan. No haphazard matching of fan and woman for her.

“New York women are learning that to carry a 50-cent fan when wearing a $300 gown is almost laughable,” she explained. “It is not so very long though since they found this out.”

Jules de Ban court presentation gown for Lucile, c. 1923. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O699496/fashion-design-jules-de-ban/

Jules de Ban court presentation gown for Lucile, c. 1923. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O699496/fashion-design-jules-de-ban/


The young woman expert referred to paid a compliment when she said that New York women were learning to know a fine fan and the artistic possibilities it suggests.
“One need only to go to the opera,” she said, “to see that. And, as I said before, women who have traveled get onto these fine points sooner. Of course there are New York women who think of a fan merely as a fan and probably they will always be like that. Take a Spanish or an Italian or a French woman and she is apt to think of a fan in almost any other way than as a fan.

“One day, for instance, two young women asked to see very large ostrich feather fans, which by the way have been one of the most taking designs of the winter. One was tall and athletic looking, the other petite with a Japanese cast of features. I encouraged the tall one all I could to buy the $100 huge white feather fan she admired, for she could manage it splendidly. She had a masterly way with her which showed that she could handle the thing to the best advantage. But the little one looked dwarfed with a fan like that.


“’What you want,’ I told her, ‘is one of these painted French fans to agree with your chic style.’ I would have recommended a small fan of Oriental coloring but that the painted French fan was handsomer and more what she wanted.

“One of my customers the other day was a graceful woman of the brunette type who has languid Spanish eyes. ‘A lace fan by all means,’ I advised, when she hesitated between one of gauze decorated with gold and silver and somewhat larger one of point lace mounted on those wide pearl sticks indicative of Austrian workmanship. ‘I am sure that you can manage a fan like that as well as a Spanish woman and it is just your style.’ She laughed, and chose the lace, saying, demurely, ‘I have been told that I can manage a fan very well.’


“Now that woman knew something about the use of a fan.

“So did a young woman with a saucy turned up nose and the bright glancing type of brown eyes which are not at all common, who told me: ‘I’m just crazy to have one of those big feather fans, but I don’t think it suits my style.’ No more did it and I was glad that she chose an 8-inch spangled fan of variegated color. That she will use that to some purpose I am pretty sure.”
Nothing could be funnier, the saleswoman agreed, than the contrast afforded by the 25-inch and the 30-inch feather fans and the 5-inch and 6-inch pompadour fans of spangled gauze and many different colors which are among the most coquettish and novel of the latest varieties, unless indeed it is the flower fans which are just coming in again and promise all sort of novelties.

The tiny spangled affairs are attached to a chatelaine chain, and, according to an authority they are intended more for ornament and as an aid to flirtation than for real use.

Kansas City [MO] Star 5 March 1912: p. 16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Women who have travelled a good deal,” “handle the thing to the best advantage,” “knew something about the use of a fan,” “will use that to some purpose.” Here the language of the fan seems riddled with sinister euphemisms for either seduction or murder. One is not quite sure which….

The “new” pompadour and flower fans were actually described two years earlier. The photograph above shows one of these bijoux creations.

Fan Novelty

The new fans are all quite short, most of them not larger than seven or eight inches. Many are of moiré, closely spangled, with handsome chased gold, ivory or tortoise shell sticks. Spangled gauze is also much seen on these modified empire fans. One of the novelties of the season is a fan that when closed shows masses of flowers at the top of sticks to resemble a small bouquet. When opened the fan is closely covered with flower petals of tiny flowers and foliage so that none of the silk background shows. Roses are the favorite for the floral fan, but carnations, orchids, iris and poppies are also seen.

Baxter Springs [KS] News 13 January 1910: p. 3

Previous posts on fans have included society ladies’ historic fans, the fan revival after the Great War, and a “Fan Academy,” to teach ladies to manage their fans. There is also an article on the Princess Royal’s wedding fan and a strange costume version of it worn by a child actress.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


An Academy For the Training Up of Young Women in the Exercise of the Fan: 1761

Lady with a Fan, Alexander Roslin, 1768

Lady with a Fan, Alexander Roslin, 1768

I do not know whether to call the following letter a satire upon coquettes, or a representation of their several fantastical accomplishments, or what other title to give it; but as it is I shall communicate it to the publick. It will sufficiently explain its own intention, so that I shall give it to my reader at length, without either preface or postscript.

Mr. Spectator,

Women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them. To the end therefore that ladies may be intire mistresses of the weapon which they bear, I have erected an academy for the training up of young women in the Exercise of the Fan, according to the most fashionable airs and motions that are not practiced at court. The ladies who carry fans under me are drawn up twice a-day in my great hall, where they are instructed in the use of their arms, and exercised by the following words of command.

Handle your fans,

Unfurl your fans,

Discharge your fans,

Ground your fans

Recover your fans,

Flutter your fans.

By the right observations to these few plain words of command, a woman of tolerable genius, who will apply herself diligently to her exercise for the space of but one half-year, shall be able to give her fan all the graces that can possibly enter into that little modish machine.

But to the end that my readers may form to themselves a right notion of this Exercise, I beg leave to explain it to them in all its parts. When my female regiment is drawn up in array, with every one her weapon in her hand, upon my giving the word to handle their fans, each of them shakes her fan at me with a smile, then gives her right-hand woman  tap upon the shoulder, then presses her lips with the extremity of her fan, then lets her arms fall in an easy motion, and stands in a readiness to receive the next word of command. All this is done with a closed fan, and is generally learned in the first week.

The next motion is that of unfurling the fan, in which are comprehended several little flirts and vibrations, as also gradual and deliberate openings, with many voluntary fallings asunder in the fan itself, that are seldom learned under a month’s practice. This part of the Exercise pleases the spectators more than any other, as it discovers on a sudden an infinite number of Cupids, garlands, altars, birds, beasts, rainbows, and the like agreeable figures, that display themselves to view, whilst every one in the regiment holds a picture in her hand.

Upon my giving the word to discharge their fans, they give one general crack that may be heard at a considerable distance when the wind sits fair. This is one of the most difficult parts of the Exercise, but I have several ladies with me, who at their first entrance could not give a pop loud enough to be heard at the farther end of a room, who can now discharge a fan in such a manner, that it shall make a report like a pocket-pistol. I have likewise taken care (in order to hinder young women from letting off their fans in wrong places or unsuitable occasions) to shew upon what subject the crack of a fan may come in properly. I have likewise invented a fan, with which a girl of sixteen, by the help of a little wind which is inclosed about one of the largest sticks, can make as loud a crack as a woman of fifty with an ordinary fan.

When the fans are thus discharged, the word of command in course is to ground their fans. This teaches a lady to quit her fan gracefully when she throws it aside in order to take up a pack of cards, adjust a curl of hair, replace a falling pin, or apply herself to any other matter of importance. This part of the exercise, as it only consists in tossing a fan with an air upon a long table (which stands by for that purpose) may be learned in two days’ time as well as in a twelve-month.

When my female regiment is thus disarmed, I generally let them walk about the room for some time; when on a sudden (like ladies that look upon their watches after a long visit) they all of them haste to their arms, catch them up in a hurry, and place themselves in their proper stations upon my calling out, Recover your fans. This part of the exercise is not difficult, provided a woman applies her thoughts to it.

The Fluttering of the fan is the last, and indeed the master-piece of the whole exercise; but if a lady does not misspend her time, she may make herself mistress of it in three months. I generally lay aside the dog-days, and the hot time of the summer for the teaching this part of the exercise; for as soon as ever I pronounce Flutter your fans, the place is filled with so many zephyrs and gentle breezes, as are very refreshing in that season of the year, though they might be dangerous to ladies of a tender constitution in any other.

There is an infinite variety of motions to be made use of in the Flutter of a fan: There is the angry flutter, the modest flutter, the timorous flutter, the confused flutter, the merry flutter, and the amorous flutter. Not to be tedious, there is scarce any emotion of the mind which does not produce a suitable agitation in the fan; insomuch, that if I only see the fan of a disciplined lady, I know very well whether she laughs, frowns, or blushes. I have seen a fan so very angry, that it would have been dangerous for the absent lover who provoked it to have come within the wind of it; and at other times so very languishing, that I have been glad for the lady’s sake the lover was at a sufficient distance from it. I need not add, that a fan is either a prude or coquette, according to the nature of the person who bears it. To conclude my letter, I must acquaint you that I have from my own observations compiled a little treatise for the use of my scholars, intitled The passions of the fan; which I will communicate to you, if you think it may be of use to the publick. I shall have a general review on Thursday next; to which you shall be very welcome if you will honour it with your presence.

I am, &c.

P.S. I teach young gentlemen the whole art of gallanting a fan.

N.B. I have several little plain fans made for this purpose, to avoid expence.

The Spectator, No. 102, 27 June 1761

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has previously posted on the 1919 revival of the fan here, which also addresses the various sorts of flutters and their effects. In this post, on some historic fans, she points out the fan’s potential as weapon. This post , with its whimsical illustration, tells of a young person fancifully dressed as the Princess Royal’s wedding fan.

The protocol outlined by the lady above was still in effect 120 years later:

A novel public entertainment was given in St. Louis a few nights ago for the benefit of one of the churches of that city. It was a “fan-drill” given by twelve beautiful young ladies thoroughly trained to the work, the object being to illustrate the uses of the fan as an interpreter of the various emotions. Elkhart [IN] Daily Review 27 January 1881: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.