The History of Fans

Fans have been an integral part of fashion since they were invented. The earliest fans were used for sun protection and to swat away annoying insects. The first fans were probably made from things found in nature such as a branch, a large leaf or a bunch of feathers. Many cultures claim to have made the first fans. Chinese were using screen fans in the second millennia BCE and Japanese invented the folding fan in the tenth century. Paintings of fans can be found in ancient Egyptian frescoes and papyrus sheets. The most expensive fans were made from peacock feathers. 

At the end of the 15th century, the folded fan appeared in Europe. China exported fans to Portugal and Spain. From there, it was esteemed to be prized among the atrocities. In the 17th century, fans started to be produced inexpensively by the English, while the Italians produced expensive painted fans. The French were becoming known for fashion and art and soon took over the majority of fan production. In the 1770’s, Paris had over 150 fan workshops employing over 6,000 workers. 

During the middle of the 18th century, folded fans were a fashion necessity amongst women. No woman dared to be seen without a fan. An Englishman wrote, “the fan was an item so widespread that a woman without a fan felt just as ill at ease as a knight without a sword.” (P.61) Fan frames from this era were made from: mother-of-pearl, ivory, shell, less often of wood, gold and silver. The design of the fan was highly detailed and made by expert artisans. Intricate designs were carved into the frame and the fan sheet had beautiful designs with enamel, precious stones and gold or silver. The sheet was made from paper, silk, parchment or animal skins adorned with sequins, silk thread and beautiful artwork. 

Thousands of varied images were painted on fans. From biblical references, floral images, city scenes, love scenes, whimsical images and fashion trends can all be seen on fans. 

In the 1750’s fans became lighter and had more intricate carvings on the frame. In France, the carvings and designs were considered so detailed and fine that it was thought men would not be to do such detailed work, the engravings were left for females to do.

The fan was popular all over Europe and Russia in the 18th century. It was a symbol of refinement and art of handing a fan required great dexterity. Author, Madame de Staël wrote that she could easily distinguish princess from a commoner by the way she held and used her fan. During the 18th century, a glossary of fan etiquette was written. The fan was used in a way to attract admirers. For example, a belle would drop her fan and observe men’s reactions. The chivalrous man who picked up the fan first would be the winner. The fan was also a way to send love notes. A fan might be left behind on a table with a note inside. At the end of the 18th century the language of the fan for sending messages was being lost. In the early 19th century, schools in London were created to teach this art, like a dancing school. One upper class lady in London created her school, “The Academy of the Art of Using a Fan”.

Our fans are made by hand in Shanghai. The frames are made out of bamboo and the sheet is 100% cotton, Battenberg lace design.  We can make custom fans with silk or paper sheets with any design you provide for us. It’s the perfect accessory for a wedding or birthday! 

Fans, 2014, Tcherviakov, A. 


It all started when…

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