Monday, 13 June 2016

A brief look at the hand fan : an elegant way to stay cool in the summer

What better to adorn during those hot summer days than a dainty hand fan, by far one of the most lady like images you'd associate with, the hand fan has been keeping many a dame and darling cool on those long hot summer days, but where did our favourite summer accessory come from? And how did we come to use it?

The origin of the hand fan is uncertain, as to when our ancestors first came up with this inventive and yet simplistic contraption is unknown but thanks to artistic representations of this object, we know that fans were used by Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. The oldest known representation in Egypt dates back to around 3000 B.C which can be seen at the Asmolean Museum of Oxford placed in the head of a ceremonial hammer. Egyptian fans were big, fixed, and semicircular shaped, made with feathers and with long handles. Their function was double: blowing air and scaring away insects.

However as time passed by, fans become an ornamental object with a distinctive meaning. The distinctive folding fan which we know today was thought to have originated in the Orient between the 7th and 10th Centuries, and it was there they first became a part of daily life.

Fans became an art in Asia by the 1500's when the first European ships reached the orient bringing the artistic fans back with them which certainly caused a trend throughout Europe with Parisian fans becoming in fashion. With fashionable and artistic fans being made, for instance the guard sticks and ribs were made of carved wood or ivory and were covered with silk, hand-painted paper, lace or other delicate materials.

During the 19th century fans were even used as a means of communicating with the opposite sex, the language of fans evolved enabling women to express themselves at a time when they were often refrained from doing so. For instance touching the fan to their right cheek as a response of 'yes'.

The history of the hand fan is certainly far richer than imagined with many types developing throughout history, however the humble hand fan as we know it today is far more recent. Today hand fans are used more as a useful accessory to keep cool during the summer days, as opposed to the fashionable hand fans adorned in the 16th century, the folded hand fan is one we commonly associate with today.

Hand fans today are often made of paper, plastic, wood and fabrics, you can find a selection of various styles to choose from but for something that looks a little more traditional whether it's more of an Asian or European style you prefer I've selected a few to take your fancy.

Muji have a wonderful selection of hand fans both online and in store, this simple coloured fan is a traditional folded fan that will certainly look fetching.

Miss Bamboo also have these rather pretty paper fans that are as effective as they are darling.

If you prefer something a little more traditional Bow and Crossbones have these simple yet striking wooden fans alongside some rather elegant silk fans if you fancy something a little more eye catching.

The hand fan is certainly a handy essential for the summer and with such a rich history you can feel a little more cultural as you waft your fan against the breeze this summer.

Images: Flickr commons


  1. Hello Leona,
    As a designer of fashionable hand fans (FANCY Hand Fans), I just loved your article :-)
    I would love you to check out my collection in my Etsy store:
    My designs reflect the urban chic of today's street fashion, and my motto: Stay COOL & Look HOT !
    Hope you like them,
    Sharon xx

    1. How lovely! You've got some stunning designs there!

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