Fashion for a Fashionable Item

Hand-held fans, previously reserved for royalty and aristocrats, become a must-have accessory for every lady in high society at the end of the 17th century. The trend to carry a fan spreads rapidly through society. With this, the decoration of the fan leave becomes light-hearted: The religious and classical motifs give way to pastoral scenes, al fresco parties, and themes of love-and-courtship. Interestingly, fashion itself also features on the fashionable accessories, serving as a fashion plate and fashion statement.

Fashion motifs are especially frequent on French fans. France is an important supplier of fans for the British market. Fans depicting the latest fashion trends of Napoleonic France thus quickly reach England before the Continental Blockade of 1806 cuts official trade connections between France and Britain for some years.

I have compiled a selection of ‘fashion fans’ for you. Enjoy!

The fashionable French

This French fan from around 1800 shows three couples wearing the latest fashion, including a parasol and a reticule.

The French revolution changes politics, society, and fashion. The new dresses for women are made of light fabric and discreet colour. The silhouette is slim. The change in fashion means that women can’t wear their pockets under the skirts as they used to do. As a consequence, a new accessory is invented: the reticule, a little bag hanging from the wrist.


Motifs from the fashion plate

Fan dating from around 1800: The daytime fashion on the printed leave derives from a fashion plate

The handsome Hussar

Uniform fashion: the hussar looks splendid in his light-blue uniform and the red and white sash. He kisses a young lady dressed in white.

The glitter years of fan-fashion

Form around the turn of the century, the design of the fan should contrast the simple style of the dress. Ornaments made of sequins and gilt shapes glitter in the fan leaves.

A French fan form 1802 depicting the slim new dress, richly adorned with sequins.

A French fan from 1805. The leave is painted with a woman wearing a striking pink gown with yellow gloves. Note the hat in matching colour.

Sequins and gilt shapes at large on this fan from around 1810. The lady in wearing a greenish dress with yellow gloves. Note the elaborate hairstyle.



The Fan Museum, 12 Crooms Hill, London SE10 8ER, UK

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