Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Flirting with Props, Part 1

Regina’s post about the language of flowers last week reminded me of a delightful series of lists I found that explain how to—yes, you guessed it—use personal items to flirt and send secret communications in public. The original lists appeared in a book called Secrets of Life Revealed (wow! gotta love that title!) by Daniel R. Shafer, published in Baltimore in 1877. It included tips on how to communicate via handkerchief, glove, fan, and parasol. I have no idea how widespread this knowledge really was among 19th century misses, but I thought it might amuse you.

So let’s look at Handkerchief Flirtations first. Mr. Shafer writes:
The handkerchief, among lovers, is used in a different manner than its legitimate purpose. The most delicate hints can be given without danger of misunderstanding, and in “flirtations” it becomes a very useful instrument. It is in fact superior to the deaf and dumb alphabet, as the notice of bystanders is not attracted. The following rules are the law on the subject:

Drawing it across the lips: Desiring an acquaintance
Drawing it across the cheek: I love you
Drawing it across the forehead: Look, we are watched
Drawing it through the hands: I hate you
Dropping it: We will be friends
Folding it: I wish to speak with you
Letting it rest on the right cheek: Yes
Letting it rest on the left cheek:
Letting it remain on the eyes:
You are so cruel
Opposite corners in both hands: Do wait for me
Over the shoulder: Follow me
Placing it over the right ear: How you have changed
Putting it in the pocket: No more love at present
Taking it by the center: You are most too willing
Twisting it in the left hand: I wish to be rid of you
Twisting it in the right hand: I love another
Winding it around the forefinger: I am engaged
Winding it around the third finger: I am married

Hmm. I tried to picture just how one placed one’s handkerchief over one’s right ear without looking totally silly, and can’t help thinking a whispered comment in passing might do the trick just as well…but this is, after all, the age of disposable tissues and maybe a flirtatious young lady of the 19th century could carry it off. The jury’s still out on that one…

Next week I’ll tell you how to flirt with gloves.


Liviania said...

I'm looking forward to how to flirt with a parasol, as I sometimes carry one for costumes. (That, and a fan.)

Lynnae said...

Love it! Yes, over the shoulder seens a littl obvous too.

Melanie said...

I'm very glad that we no longer have to adhere to such rules. With my clumsiness, I would inevitable send the wrong messages!

Marissa Doyle said...

I don't think these were ever "rules" per se or even terribly widely known, Melanie...more a sort of secret decoder ring a la 1870. But you're so right--I can definitely see sending some very peculiar messages by mistake!

Christina Farley said...

This is great. I never thought there would be some 'secret' messages being sent. And a list of them to boot!

Joanna said...

Wow! I never knew that you could flirt with a handkerchief. Maybe thats why women carried them around all the time. But then, men carried them around too. It would have been awfully silly to see a man try these. I cant wait to see how to flirt with a glove.

QNPoohBear said...

How odd! I've never heard of flirting with a handkerchief before and I know I would be sure to mess it up or my hankie would be dirty! (I'm very much Jo March at times. I look forward to reading the rest of the flirting posts.

Marissa Doyle said...

Ooh, yes--I should think that flirting with a dirty hanky would send ENTIRELY the wrong message! :)