The Nuance of the Fan

Published in Citizens’ Companion, February 2, 2013.

Fans were a “must” fashion accessory from the 16th through the early 20th centuries. The French were the first Europeans to use fans as an everyday item, bringing their expertise to England after 1685 when the Edict of Nantes forced thousands of Frenchmen to emigrate from France to nearby Protestant countries, especially England. When the Frenchmen arrived in their new countries, their fan making skills came with them.

The East India Company imported fans from China and Japan, thus heightening their oriental mystique. The first European countries known to have used the fan are Spain, Italy and Portugal, no doubt due to their hot climates. But it was the French, who made their fans an art form by adding exotic materials such as ostrich feathers and jewels, who are credited with the surge in the fan’s popularity, making it more of an accessory and less of a necessity.

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