fangirling: The Lost Art of the Hand Fan

I am a huge fan of a good fan. Not only are they stylish and unique additions to any outfit, they are also fabulously functional – especially if you’re like me and you have a hard time regulating your body temperature.

Here in Connecticut, summers can be brutally hot AND humid, sometimes reaching 95*F+ with humidity at 80% or higher. If you happen to have air conditioning in your home, car, and work, then this isn’t really a problem because you simply mad dash from one temperature-controlled environment to the next. But every once in awhile, you’ll find yourself stuck in a stuffy situation – like waiting for a bus, on an elevator, or in a crowded restaurant – when a little fanning is exactly what you need, and at times like that a hand fan can come in very handy indeed.

I have joked before that my love for fans is of Karl Lagerfeld-sized proportion, and to look at my collection all laid out it certainly does seem that way. It’s a bit of an obsession of mine that has been healthily aided and abetted by friends and especially my sister, who has gifted me fans (and even a paper parasol) from their travels, some from as far away as Spain. It’s safe to say that I have a fan for (almost) every OOTD and occasion. (The only kind I’m missing is an extra-large one covered in feathers lol!)

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Some of mine are special or sentimental, others are random gifts or found at unlikely places. I have ten in total, all but two of which are folded fans. (Paddle fans aren’t my preference as they are tricky to travel with and store.)

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^ These two are hand-painted wooden Spanish fans, called abanicos, that my sister brought me back from Barcelona – one from last year and one from this summer – and they are by far the most exquisite pieces in my little collection. I try to only use these on special occasions because I don’t want them to get get dirty or broken, but they’re so lovely that they’re my favorites to use. Each one has a solid but soft weight in the hand, and when they flutter the wood makes a faint dainty clackity sound. They produce very strong breezes and the lacquer shines beautifully in any lighting.

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^ Also from my sister’s travels, this fluttery black beauty from Madrid is actually a cheap plastic knock-off that packs a big punch style-wise. It’s the simplest and most versatile fan I own and the fabric petals are super effective when it comes to creating wind!

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^ This cotton candy confection was the first fan I found that started all this business. It’s a laser-cut bamboo and fabric folding fan (also called sensu or ougi in Japanese,) with delicate metallic accents that I found deep in the back counter at A Dong Super Market in West Hartford back in 2010-ish. For the longest time it was the only fan I owned so it’s seen a lot of wear and tear. (Sentimental sidenote: I was using this fan the night that my now-husband/then-boyfriend and I took our relationship from “just dating” to “fully committed.” We were at an art show he had organized and it was hot as hell in that gallery, but I was able to keep my cool thanks to this handy fan. I will never forget that night. Le Sigh!)

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^ This paper paddle, or uchiwa, is also an Asian import hailing from A Dong. Carved from bamboo, it is the most lightweight and yet also the strongest of all my fans. It creates quite a gust!

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^ Both these sparkles and sequins hail from the Dollar Tree believe it or not – my husband saw them randomly and knew that they must be mine. These are the gaudiest I own and TBH I’ve yet to find an outfit to pair with the black and gold sequined fan – YET.

Those are some of my favorites – I won’t bore you with the details of how I came to own each and every piece even though I might really want to lol! I always keep my eyes peeled for new additions because you really never know where you might come across a nice fan.

I recently discovered the forgotten language of fans, which was apparently very popular in Victorian times. In historically up-tight confines of society, women were not allowed to act or speak freely and so many secret ways of communicating sprung up, like the hidden meanings behind flowers, among others. These subtle ways of communicating allowed proper upper-class ladies to express what they were really thinking, even if it was considered inappropriate or risque. (Incidentally, if using fans in Spain, China, or Japan, you have a whole different set of etiquette, signs, and meanings!)

 

THREATENING MOVEMENTS WITH A FAN CLOSED: “Do not be so imprudent”

LETTING THE FAN REST ON THE RIGHT CHEEK: “Yes.”

LETTING THE FAN REST ON THE LEFT CHEEK: “No.”

PLACING THE FAN BEHIND THE HEAD WITH FINGER EXTENDED: “Goodbye.”

FAN HELD OVER LEFT EAR: “I wish to get rid of you.”

TWIRLING THE FAN IN THE LEFT HAND: “We are being watched.”

CARRYING THE OPEN FAN IN THE RIGHT HAND: “You are too willing.”

DRAWING THE FAN THROUGH THE HAND: “I hate you!”

DRAWING THE FAN ACROSS THE CHEEK: “I love you!”

Here, I demonstrate a few more clandestine gestures – can you decipher what they mean?

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HALF OPEN IN FRONT ON THE MOUTH: “You may kiss me.”
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COVERING LEFT EAR WITH OPEN FAN: “Do not betray our secret.”
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FAN IN RIGHT HAND IN FRONT OF FACE: “Follow me.”
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CLOSED FAN TOUCHING RIGHT EYE: “When may I be allowed to see you?”
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NUMBER OF STICKS SHOWN ANSWER THE QUESTION: “At what hour?”

Bonus – here’s a special albanico message for you!

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OPEN FAN COVERING ONE CHEEK: “I Like you.”

 

What strikes me most about all this is the sheer memorization required! Women would have had to spend hours practicing and drilling themselves to make sure they had the correct gestures to match their meanings – and men, too, would had to have known all these subtle signals as well. There must have been manuals or pamphlets available, maybe even traveling instructors? I can only imagine in a world without radio, television, or internet that a secret language allowing you to communicate your hidden desires was probably a bigger trend than Pokemon!

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Sadly, unless one of you wants to come practice with me, I’ll never know the romantic rush of furtively tapping out a secret message to my lover with one of my fans. Oh wait, did you want to? No? Oh. It looked a little like you might be interested. You sure? Not the least? Oh alright.

Do you own a hand fan or any other vintage accessories you just can’t live without? In addition to fans,  I’m a sucker for sunglasses and bandanas! I’d love to hear about your obsessions and collections in the comments below!

xo

Lauren

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