Our accessory of the week is the fan, that indispensable and multi-purpose item in any upper class woman’s fashion arsenal. Fans were vastly useful: one could flirt with them (or use them to signal the profoundest disdain!), use them as a weapon, or even—shockingly—use them to cool one’s self down after a lively set of dances. Just as the reticule was mostly a daytime accessory, the fan is only seen in prints of evening, ball, and opera dresses
Look for lots of images rather than commentary, though I’ll try to supply original text if I have it—the point is to be able to examine multiple examples of each item. Images are drawn from my collection of prints from British publications including Ackermann’s Repository, La Belle Assemblée, The Lady’s Magazine, Phillips’ Fashions of London and Paris, and others. However, Ackermann’s had the most detailed plates, so the majority of images you’ll see will be from that publication. These date from 1799-1821.
London Full Dress, from Fashions of London and Paris, June 1799
Parisian Winter Dress, from La Belle Assemblee, March 1807
"white gloves and fan" Half Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, February 1809
Evening or Opera Dresses, Ackermann's Repository, April 1810
Evening Dresses, Ackermann's Repository, January 1811
Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, October 1811
Ball Dress, Ackermann's Repository, April 1812
Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, November 1812
"Fan of richly frosted silver crepe" Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, December 1813
"Small ivory fan" Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, October 1818
Court Dress, Ackermann's Repository, July 1820
Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, January 1821
Hmm. Apart from variations in size, fans just weren't very interesting, it seems...or at least, not very colorful. Even when I have the dress description for a plate, mention isn't always made of what sort of fan the illustration depicts. That makes sense in some ways--one fan of ivory or frosted crape will go with many outfits. But it would seem to me that collecting different fans for different dresses would be half the fun--don't you agree?
As it happens, fans get much more interesting later in the 1820s, as we shall see in the next Accessories post...soon.