Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Language of the Fan

During the Victorian Era the fan became a very important fashion accessorie - not just as a means to stay cooled or ward off unpleasant smells, but also as a way to communicate with others. I did a little research on this "language of the fan", and this is what I found out about the different gesture's meanings!


1. The fan placed near the heart: "You have won my love."
2. A closed fan touching the right eye: "When may I be allowed to see you?"
3. The number of sticks shown answered the question: "At what hour?"
4. Threatening movements with a closed fan: "Do not be so imprudent."
5. Half-opened fan pressed to the lips: "You may kiss me."
6. Hands clasped together holding an open fan: "Forgive me."
7. Covering the left ear with an open fan: "Do not betray our secret."
8. Drawing the fan across the forehead: "You have changed."

Hamilton Hamilton, Woman With a Fan

9. Shutting a fully opened fan slowly: "I promise to marry you."
10. Drawing the fan across the eyes: "I am sorry."
11. Touching the finger to the tip of the fan: "I wish to speak with you."
12. Letting the fan rest on the right cheek: "Yes."
13. Letting the fan rest on the left cheek: "No."
14. Opening and closing the fan several times: "You are cruel."
15. Dropping the fan: "We will be friends."
16. Putting the fan handle to the lips: "Kiss me."

George Washington Cable, creole ladies with fans in The Grandissimes

17. Fanning slowly: "I am married."
18. Fanning quickly: "I am engaged."
19. Opening a fan wide: "Wait for me."
20. Placing the fan behind the head: "Do not forget me."
21. Placing the fan behind the head with the finger extended: "Goodbye."
22. Fan in right hand in front of face: "Follow me."
23. Fan in left hand in front of face: "I am desirous of your acquaintance."
24. Fan held over left ear: "I wish to get rid of you."

Alexander Roslin, The Lady With The Veil

25. Twirling the fan in the left hand: "We are being watched."
26. Twirling the fan in the right hand: "I love another."
27. Carrying an open fan in the right hand: "You are too willing."
28. Carrying an opened fan in the left hand: "Come and talk to me."
29. Drawing the fan through the hand: "I hate you."
30. Drawing the fan across the cheek: "I love you."
31. Hiding the eyes behind an open fan: "I love you."
32. Presenting the fan shut: "Do you love me?"


I'm sure there were more gestures that meant other things too, and I can imagine that the gentlemen of those days might have had a bit of a difficult time trying to keep up with the development of this language...I love it though, and wouldn't mind if fans came into fashion again. I do use them sometimes though, and after writing this post I feel like always having one with me!


  1. I knew that the fan 'had a language' but wasn't aware there were quite so many meanings. The poor gents must have had a difficult time working it all out and I'm sure they probably got the signs wrong on occasion!! M x

  2. I love fans...I collect them :) I've always enjoyed learning what the little motions were for. I wish they were around more too, I remember using them when I was younger and then they completely went away and no one used them much any more. Shame, but I can collect them and use them as I please, so that's ok :) Wish you a wonderful day darling xoxox

  3. I had no idea that fans and how they're held or put out could denote moods so this has been very educational and interesting for me this morning. There's something so classy and elegant about fans that I just can't help love, they can be so beautiful like in these photos.


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