Tag Archives: New Woman

Choose Your Fan and Then Your Flutter: 1919

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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.

Mme. Grand’s Christmas Bicycle Costume: 1897

The Christmas Bicycle Costume.

The Christmas Bicycle Costume.

Startling Bicycle Costume

Sarah Grand Thought It Out After Studying Rosalind in “As You Like It.”

How It Looks on Mme. Grand

Of White Fur, with Cloak and Knickers, Following Closely the Shakespearean.

Calls It Christmas Costume

Very Pretty on Slender Women, but Some Had Better Fight Shy of It.

It’s Sure to Come to America.

Women Awheel Wearing the Sarah Grand Rosalind Dress Will Cause a Sensation in the Streets.

Special to the Globe.

London, Dec. 11. By a judicious combination of ideas based on Shakespeare and common sense, Mme. Sarah Grand, the world-famous authoress of “The Heavenly Twins,” has evolved a bicycle costume for women that is a startler. And, as Mme. Grand’s admirers point out, the subject of the correct bicycle costume for women has been for so long a favorite one with cranks and reformers of all classes that it is not an every-day occurrence for anything startling to be successfully launched on the trouble sea of woman’s apparel. To the novelty of the costume Mme. Sarah Grand has added the novelty of a name. She calls her new cycle dress for women her “Christmas bicycle costume,” and considers that in devising it she has given additional cause for rejoicing among women during the coming holiday season.

To begin to explain Mme. Grand’s costume it is necessary to take the Rosalind of act 2 in “As You Like It,” and, using her as a lay figure for the explanation, to build the Mme. Grand costume around her. Mme. Grand is an enthusiastic admirer of Shakespeare, and the more she studied the free and easy grace of Rosalind of the russet doublet and hose, the more she became convinced that had bicycles been in use during the Shakespearean era, the doublet and hose would have been the costume that level-headed women would have adopted. It was even an improvement on the male bicycling costume, argued Mme. Grand, for even the emancipated man who discarded his voluminous trousers for wide knee breeches and stockings when he mounted the fascinating wheel, occasionally complained that the revolving spokes caught in the “knicker” cloth and made trouble. But the hose of Rosalind would prevent even the possibility of a spill from the wardrobe and the wheel becoming on terms of too close intimacy during a ride.

So Mme. Grand proceeded to think out her Rosalind bicycle costume, discarding one by one the nineteenth century articles of dress that fettered the sex when awheeling.

“No waist for me,” said Mme. Grand, at the beginning of her studies, “a waist on a cycle is absurd. I can never bear to ride in anything tight, especially corsets, and I like to feel free and comfortable.”

And away went the corsets and after them the waist, then the skirt and the bloomers, until Rosalind, the lay figure, was deprived of everything that pertained to modern costuming and stood ready to be habilitated in the Shakespearian reform dress that Madame Grand had in mind. The creation that is the outcome of her efforts is declared by all who have seen it, set off on the famous novelist’s graceful figure, to be a great success. It combines the rare qualities of prettiness and comfort, and it is sure to find its way to America, where such a combination in qualities in women’s costume is fully appreciated and eagerly attached.

The costume is made for winter wear, although it can be fashioned readily enough into an attractive summer rig for the athletic girl. It is made of white fur and follows the Rosalind idea very closely. Over the shoulder is thrown the natty cloak of the Rosalind era, which can be discarded as the option for the bicyclist, but certainly adds to the smartness of the wearer’s appearance. The hose and doublet are modified into tight-fitting knickerbockers of white fur, and on a slender woman look extremely well. The accompanying illustration showing Madame Grand clad in the costume she has evolved gives a good idea of how the novel bicycle dress will look on women of attractive build. Of course the way the costume will look depends altogether on the figure and general appearance of the wearer. It isn’t everyone who makes a good looking Rosalind, and some women do well to cling to the skirt or the bloomers for the sake of the disguise they afford. A well-formed woman, however, will have in the new Sarah Grand costume a dress that will make her free from restraining drapery, and of attractive appearance when awheel.

It remains to be seen how many women will have the courage to indorse Sarah Grand’s idea by adopting it. It is such a startling long step, even from the bloomer costume, that most women will probably be a little shy about appearing in public until bolder spirits have taken the rough edge off the sensation such a costume will cause. Rosalind on the stage is one thing. Rosalind on a bicycle in Hyde park or Central park is another, although the distinction is a fine one when simmered down.

Madame Grand does not believe that she is entitled to be roughly criticized on account of her new costume.

“Nothing is unfeminine for a woman,” she said when asked about this point, “unless she chooses to make it so. I think we are beginning to show nowadays that we can do many things which used to be thought ‘unfeminine’ and yet be womanly, nevertheless. Bicycling is one of them, and the wearing of a rational bicycle costume goes with it. The skirt is evidently not the thing. I have had two bad accidents from mine catching and it is made by an excellent tailor. This is what led me to devote a good deal of thought to the subject, and made me come to the conclusion that an easy and pretty costume might be modeled from Rosalind’s dress.”

The women of America can judge for themselves and criticize the authoress of “The Heavenly Twins,” as they consider she deserves. She assumes the entire responsibility for the Rosalind bicycle costume, and, being accustomed to criticism, is disposed to regard philosophically the abuse of those who treat her original ideas irreverently.

The Saint Paul Globe  12 December 1897: p. 20

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has nothing against healthful exercise for ladies awheel, but thinks that the Christmas bicycle costume is less Rosalind than Robinson Crusoe panto Principal Boy.

Sarah Grand [1854-1943] was a feminist author and creator of the term “New Woman.” She railed against the traditional sexual double-standard and wrote about “original” subjects like syphilis and the failure of marriage in her controversial novel The Heavenly Twins. She knew whereof she wrote. Grand was married at 16 to a much older widowed Army surgeon, David Chambers McFall, who had an extensive practice in venereal diseases. Grand (who was born Frances Clarke) changed her name when she separated from her husband and began her writing career. She was a strong advocate for the victims of venereal disease (She once wrote that she hoped that some day the marriage of certain [diseased] men would be a crime.) and for the sexual education of young women. Mrs Daffodil found  the adventures of the eponymous twins, Angelina and Diavolo, to be both hectic and tedious, although she sees how the book became a sensation for its frank treatment of miserable marriages and the effects of tertiary syphilis. Critical reviews for The Heavenly Twins were mixed. Mr Mark Twain wrote in the margin of his copy of the book, “A cat could do better literature than this.”

Rosalind, the witty and intelligent heroine of As You Like It, who disguises herself as a boy, was something of a “New Woman” prototype, being feminine, clever, and “rationally” dressed.

Miss Lily Langtree as Rosalind in As You Like It.

Miss Lily Langtree as Rosalind in As You Like It.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about a costly cycling suit for a millionairess here.

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.