Secret Signals: Fans, Parasols, and Shawls
My current work in progress is a Regency, and I have another book I’ve just started that’s set during the Victorian era. The heroines are fun to write here…I find everything is a little bit lighter than my medieval romances.
Along the way, I studied up on ballroom etiquette and followed a surfing thread about the secret code of fans, shawls and parasols. All of these fashionable accessories were used to send signals, and communicate messages to suitors—the twirl of parasol just so, the touching of a fan to one’s cheek and the drape of a shawl.
This from a costume website:
“During Victorian times Godey's Ladies book was seen to encourage girls to keep their shawls in motion as the act of letting a shawl slide down your shoulders and then be pulled back up could be used to draw the attention of a likely suitor. Girls were known to practice in front of mirrors to learn these maneuvers.”
Cool. I’ve seen the shawl used in romances like this…but I never knew it was practiced!
On the fan:
“If pictures are worth a thousand words, then fans are worth at least 500. During the Victorian era young ladies were not allowed to speak privately with gentlemen callers at home or at balls and cotillions. To avoid the shrewd eyes of their chaperones, the young people developed an elaborate language using the ladies’ omnipresent fans. These romantic messages expressed a young ladies interest or disinterest in her prospective suitors.”
Here are some specifics:
The fan placed near the heart: You have won my love.
Half-opened fan pressed to the lips: You may kiss me.
Hiding the eyes behind an open fan: I love you.
Opening and closing the fan several times: You are cruel.
Fanning slowly: I am married.
Fanning quickly: I am engaged.
Twirling the fan in the left hand: You are being watched.
This makes for a great writers device. I’ve read maybe one or two passages from romances where the heroine used her fan to communicate to the hero, I didn’t know there was a real silent code of language.
I love the thought of fashion props as secret signals and am wondering if readers or Hoydens know of other ways respectable lovers covertly communicated in the open, so to speak?