Fans are a fashion object that experienced their greatest popularity around the 17th and 18th century. During this time they were seen as a symbol of wealth and class.They were most popular among women of the courts and nobility, occasionally being used by men as well. Queen Elizabeth | was especially fond of fans, and due to her interest in them, the use of fans by men was discouraged.
The fan was used mainly by women to communicate messages with men, otherwise known as the language of flirting. This language was a type of secret code in which women were able to silently communicate with potential suitors without having to speak directly to them. Due to the fact that it was a secret language, a woman would spin the fan in her left hand to notify her suitor if someone was watching them. Other various messages were communicated using the fan by touching different parts of the face and hands with it, closing it, and fluttering it at different speeds. For example, if a woman touched the fan to her right cheek, that meant ‘yes’ and the left cheek meant ‘no’.
The fan was also used to communicate messages of marriage and engagement. If a closed fan hung from a woman's left hand, it meant that she was engaged; the right hand meant that she was looking to be engaged. If a woman was to fan herself very slowly, this meant that she was married; but to close and open the fan slowly meant that she wished to be married.
Fans are also used to mark special occasions. Ever since Queen Victoria was present with a fan on the date of her Diamond Jubilee, it has been made a custom that women of the Royal Family are presented with a fan to mark their marriage, or other notable events. More recently, during the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Karl Lagerfeld used a hand fan to try and hide his face and appearance in public, communicating the message that he did not want to be seen.
Clearly, the fan was an object of great importance when it came to communicating, and was a large part of courting a woman during the 17th and 18th centuries.