Hello, you fans of Jane Austen.
B.E. sends me a real Regency fan: an 1810 folding fan used at one time at a Regency period ballroom in England, aBattoir (batting) fan of silk, embroidered with sequins and painted.
The painted scene is an English one, as befitting the period: a simple pleasure that is elegantly depicted outdoors, of an elegantly dressed, very much-in-love young country couple in a horse-drawn hansom cab. There are trees and foliage to the sides, with a charming splash of color in the orange hillside.
A fan was a must-have during the Regency era because the soirees were hot, packed, heated with fireplaces and brightly lit with many candles. Speaking of a nighttime ball, B.E.’s fan is accented with sequins, which would have shot out light when used in a candlelit room, the shimmer meant to attract a rich suitor.
And of course, in our era of masking, there was a certain charm in hiding a portion of one’s face with a fan. That might be hard to imagine now we have gone through 18 months of hiding our faces. (Have you noticed that one’s imagination of a face is different once you see that face, these days, without a mask? I thought my plumber was oh so dashing until …)
Accessories such as this fan, used so many years ago, were de rigueur in the early 1800s, because the period’s gowns were quite simple. They were high waisted for evening, with short puff sleeves, in light colors, with a simple gathered skirt worn with no hoops and perhaps lacey pantaloons underneath.
In fact, of any era, this seems to be the most favorite in terms of replication. There are Jane Austen costume sites everywhere online.
And the pretty and simple lines of the Regency period were a great change from the overblown styles of the 18th century. (These included wigs, big hats, white makeup, hoop skirts, much decolletage, tight showy breeches for men, hours spent dressing for various events of the day — and tons of perfume.
Thus one’s accessories in 1810 made the “statement.”
The accompanying accessory to the fan of the Regency period would have been the reticle, a drawstring bag of about 5-8” by 8” on a long rope or ribbon, perhaps of an exotic fabric from China or India.
And then one had to have gloves: Long, long gloves that were always worn both formally indoors and outdoors in many cases, with the exception being short gloves when worn with a coat.
When gloves were worn with a short-sleeved gown, they reached to the puff sleeve at 21-30 inches long. And they were embroidered or embellished with pearls or lace, of light pastel, pink, yellow or ecru (which is the color of natural linen). Long gloves were not tight at the top of the arm but were meant to bag slightly.
Along with B.E.’s fan, when outdoors, the other necessary Regency accessory was the parasol, which is amazing when you think of England as a place with little sun. These were not umbrellas, but sunshades, made necessary because the style of hat of the period was short brimmed, as was the bonnet. And a tanned face was not to be tolerated, because that spoke of “working class.”
Style of fans of the period varied. I sourced my information from the Fan Museum, 12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, England.
The construction, the sticks, of the fan were made of ivory, mother of pearl, tortoise shell, horn, precious metal. If the sticks were of carved ivory or wood, the fan was called a “Brise.”
The fan itself was made of silk, paper, carved ivory, lace or embroidered fabric, feathers, and when made of paper or silk were often painted with English Society scenes, country pleasures, famous lovers, mythological scenes, and in one magnificent example, the layout of the Opera House so you could know where the pricey seats were, looking at your fan, and find a suitor therein.
The most delightful shape and a new development in that period was a silk fan that opened to a complete round circle.
It is hard to put a value on something that was such an integral part of an 1810 soiree. I can almost feel the hand of a lady as it waved, but the market for delicate things that are frilly and pretty is not all that strong today in the era of “less is more.” The market would pay $800 for such a fan.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.