M970.23.21 | Fan
1900-1910, 20th century
50.5 x 79 cm
Gift of Mrs. William Van Horne
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Fan (17)
Keys to History
A matching fan, often made of feathers or lace, was one of the most important ballgown accessories in the 19th century.
A fan was practical for cooling down after lively dancing, but it was also an expression of its owner's wealth and taste. It also made a useful screen behind which to make faces or laugh unacceptably at a society evening, although it was frowned upon for a dancer and her partner deep in conversation to use the fan to hide from the eyes of others. At the ball, a fan became a means of communication that could send a wide range of messages, from refusal to resignation, depending on whether it was open, closed or moved in a certain way.
The carefully set scene that determined the choice of apparel, the relationships among the guests, the décor and the music helped to make the ball a magical evening.
There was also a dance called l'éventail [the fan]: during promenades, the lady would fan herself, then close her fan for the next two tours de valse.
A lady who kept her fan during the dance held it in the hand that rested on her partner's arm.
In 1887, a dance and étiquette manual specified that a young man should be "carefully gloved" and should keep his gloves on all evening.
A ball was a perfect opportunity for young people to meet and get to know each other.