Ladies, imagine a fashion accessory that can be used to signal romantic intentions without speaking a word. It can also ignore or dismiss a pesky suitor, and it even enables you to spy on others behind your back.
Contrary to what you might think, it isn’t some modern, high-tech gadget, but rather a charming antique hand fan.
Back in the day, a proper Victorian lady wouldn’t be caught at a social event without her fan. Not only was it stylish, it provided a practical breeze when needed. But it had another very important purpose: It was used to send signals to the opposite sex.
It was a time when strict rules dominated communication between single men and women. Flirting was considered crass and frowned upon, especially in public. Since both sexes were expected to conduct themselves in a chaste and respectable manner at all times, a special code was devised using the hand fan as a messenger. There were 23 distinctive gestures in what was called “The Secret Language of the Fan.”
Say, for example, a young lady was at a ball and there were numerous suitors vying for her attention. If one particular gent caught her fancy from across the room, she could have a secret conversation with him just by sending coded signals with her hand fan. If she held it in front of her face with the left hand, it meant “I am desirous of your acquaintance.” If she touched her finger to the fan tip, it meant “I wish to speak.” If a woman was married and, therefore, unavailable, she would fan herself slowly. If engaged, she fanned herself quickly.
In response to cues from a suitor, a “yes” was indicated by resting the fan on her right cheek, while a “no” was conveyed by resting the fan on the left cheek. Touching a closed fan to the right eye meant that the woman would allow the man to “see” her. If a woman suddenly twirled her fan in her left hand, it indicated that someone was observing their secret conversation.