M970.23.21 | Fan

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Creative Commons License
1900-1910, 20th century
50.5 x 79 cm
Gift of Mrs. William Van Horne
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Fan (17)
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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.

  • What

    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.

  • Where

    A lady who kept her fan during the dance held it in the hand that rested on her partner's arm.

  • When

    In 1887, a dance and étiquette manual specified that a young man should be "carefully gloved" and should keep his gloves on all evening.

  • Who

    A ball was a perfect opportunity for young people to meet and get to know each other.