During the Victorian era, it was considered improper in polite society for women to approach men in public.(I would of made a terrible Victorian lady, or atleast a very scandalous one). If you were interested in a man you had to be formally intorduced to him by an acquaintance. Even then, after the introduction, it was the man who did all the advancing. A woman could not be seen either as openly rejecting a man, even if he was clearly objectionable, or of being too eager and flirtatious. Also as courtship was in public under the watchful eyes of others, women developed subtle cues and signals as a way to commuincate with lovers. One of these ways was with movement and gestures using fans.
Fan language supposedly began in Spain during the 1600s and can still be seen in some types of traditional Spanish dance. It eventually spread from there to other parts of Europe. Historians have debated if this fan language was real or not, some saying that it is just a romantic notion that was never actually practiced. Still others say that it was a language passed between women and meanings varied in different areas. Some of the gestures and their meanings are listed below.
Fan held in the left hand: I am alone or I would like to meet you.
Fan held in the right hand: I am married, engaged.
Fast Fanning: I am married (also maybe just - It's hot in here).
Held against the left ear: You are changed
Twirling the fan in the left hand: I no longer want you.
Twirling a fan in the right hand: I love another.
Fanning with the left hand: Come closer and speak to me
Fanning with the right hand: I want to dance.
Opening the fan in a brisk movement: Don't come near, wait for my signal.
Closing the fan in a brisk movement: You don't love me anymore.
Fan held close to the heart: I am in love with you.
Fan held close to the right shoulder: Do not give away our secret.
Fan resting against the right cheek: When can we meet alone? or Yes
Fan resting against the left cheek: You wound me. or No.
Fan hiding the face with the right hand: Follow me.
Fan hiding the face with the left hand: I love another man.
Snatching the fan and holding it with both hands: or Drawing the fan across the eyes: I am sorry.
Snatching the fan, holding it with both hands and upside down: I will get my revenge.
Fan held against the lips: You can kiss me now.
Opening a fan wide: Wait for me.
Partially opening the fan: The number of ribs visible indicates a specific hour, counting from 9 o'clock in the morning.
Pretending to look attentively at the pattern of the fan or drawing the fan across the head: We are being watched.
Dropping the fan: I just want to be friends.
Running a finger along the edge of the open fan: You are cruel to me.
Drawing a fan through your hand quickly: I hate you.
Looking at the list of meanings and movements, I wonder if young men actually understood these gestures or were even paying attention. Also did young women who were absently fanning themselves send incorrect signals to men by accident? Did they get scolded for certain fan movements by the chaperons? While I think this is very poetic, I am very glad to live in a day, where I don't have to resort to subtle gestures of a fan if I like a man.
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