Looking back to the concept of dating, how has it evolved? Throughout the Victorian era, (the 1830s to 1900), there was a strict set of rules and etiquette that governed all aspects of everyday life.
The day-to-day life of the average middle class or upper class was directed by rule after rule. It was during this time period that a coded message became popular, but how was the coded message relayed? Why, though the lost art of fan language!
You seldom see a photograph or drawing of a lady who is dressed up during that time that does not have a fan in her hands or nearby. Some had ivory handles, with hand-embroidered or painted flowers on one side or bird on the other. It was the perfect gift for a lady of good taste.
These fans became works of arts and here in Springville. There are ads as early as 1846 where you could purchase a fan at Butterworth & Fox under the items for Ladies, fancy Gingham, lace and fancy silks, cravats, veils, shawls, gloves and delicate fans. Spencer & Blake in 1848 advertised boxes of fans and laces to choose from.
In 1878, William H. Freeman store, at greatly reduced prices, had shawls, parasols, gloves, fans, hosiery and more. Smith Brothers store carried them, as did N.K. Thomson’s store. Beebe & Myers advertised them in the 1880s.
Now they are made of feathers, usually composed of ostrich feathers, swan or peacock feathers, gilt paper, hand painted, some were oval-shaped, some made of gauze or lace, silk fans as well. A few had semiprecious gems were in delicate colors of pink, cream, yellow and mauve.
They were described as having delicate hand-painted fans, and the sticks or reed could be mother of pearl or onyx. They could have had silver sticks covered with spangles and could be hung from the waist with style with slender silver linked chains. They often matched the dress or gown. By the 1920s, the ostrich feathers plume would be dyed to match the dress color.
And what of the coded message? Like nowadays, where you have LOL (laugh out loud) or TTYL (talk to you later), the movements of the fans had meanings too. I would need a cheat sheet to keep up with all of them. “Fan flirtation rules” were a way to cope with the restricting social etiquette. You must have had to practice them just to remember them all, not to mention that the young fellows had to learn the language of fans.
Holding the fan in the left hand signified a “desired to get acquainted.” Resting the fan on the right cheek meant “yes” and left meant “no.” Twirling the fan in the left hand meant “I wish to be rid of you,” and if in the right hand, meant “I love another.” A fan held on the left ear signified “you have changed.”
Pulling the fan across the forehead meant “we are watched,” and across the eyes meant “I am sorry.” A wide-open fan meant “wait for me.” Dropping the fan would mean “we could be friends,” but for me, it would mean butterfingers. Fanning fast meant you were married. Placing the handle of the fan to the lips meant “kiss me.” Placing the fan near your heart, could also represent I love you.
In an age where we can freely communicate how we feel on many different platforms, like the cell phone, Facebook, Twitter, letters and or cards, and heck even face-to-face, the paradigms of the Victorian etiquette are somewhat obscure to our 21st-century social norms. We may think that fan language is quaint, but how fun to see that they had their own language of communicating with each other.
The concept of dating did not really start until the beginning of the 20th century. Early courtship was a private, unemotional affair.
Women would meet with several men, with her parents present, to whittle down to the most suitable match for marriage, which heavily relied on factors such as financial and social status. The couple would meet in the household, or at a social gathering. There was no such thing as just young lovers going out on a date.
You can have a date with us on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and find out what all we have on our shelves and in our archives. You can send us a email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If the weather is iffy, call us to make sure we are open at (716) 592-0094.
Now if you want to hear some good ole music, and maybe sing-along, or walk through the Heritage Building and view downtown Springville back in the day, or the Concord Mercantile, and see how old general stores would look, you might even find an old fan, or show the kids an old payphone, you can do so on Tuesdays 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.