Tamara Caulder Richardson, The Southern Belle Medium


Christian Evidential Medium and Messenger from Heaven

Southern Language of the Fan

The Secret Language of the Hand Fan

For much of the nineteenth century and well into the early decades of the twentieth, the fan became an indispensable fashion accessory and form of secret communication between women and men when courting. Human behavior during those times was supposed to have been more reserved, courteous, and respectable. Any demonstration of the contrary was frowned upon by society. Also vocally rejecting a possible suitor was frowned upon, even it the woman believed him to be unacceptable. Likewise flirting with a desirable suitor was equally appalling. So, while in a social gathering, what was a woman do to when faced with numerous men, all vying for her attention; how was she to express or communicate her “choice” or “choices” without violating those stifling rules of etiquette? With visual clues, of course. Using facial expressions was often too subtle to understand. Therefore, the secret language of the hand-fan was formulated to express a woman’s acceptance or rejection of potential suitors.

However, if the language of the fan was a secret, how did young women learn the various silent gestures of the fan? It is believed the language of the fan was passed down from woman-to-woman, down generation-to0generation. Each gesture of the hand holding a fan contained a powerful hidden meaning. Fan languages, or "fan flirtation rules", was a way to cope with restricting social etiquette.

While hand fans were used to express romantic interest, they were also used to politely reject unwanted advances.
 A woman twirling her fan in her right hand let interested men know, “I am in love with someone else.” Placing the fan towards her right ear let men know that the woman was no longer as interested in his romantic partnership. Snapping the fan open and shut was the perfect way to let men know, “You are cruel.” If this wasn’t severe enough, a woman would draw her closed fan slowly through her closed hands. This let the man know she “disliked him,” and ultimately unaccepting his actions toward pursuing her. 

If a young woman was unavailable, she might gesture in the following manner: fanning slowly meant, “I am married”, or, fanning quickly, “I am engaged.” Twirling her fan in the right hand meant, “I love another.” Or, if the young man was of interest as a friend rather than a suitor, she might drop the fan, which communicated, “We will be friends.” Then, by placing the fan behind with a finger extended meant, “Goodbye.”

Now, let’s imagine a young woman is available (not spoken for); she might begin her secret discussion with a new acquaintance and appropriate suitor in the following manner below.

What different fan hand-held gestures positions mean -

“Come talk to me” - Carry fan in the left hand

“I wish to speak to you” -  Touch tip of fan with finger

“You have won my love” Hold the shut fan to the heart

“Do not betray our secret” - Covering left ear with an open fan

“Follow me” - Carry fan in right hand in front of the face

“We are being watched” - Twirl fan in the left hand

“I am married” - Fan slowly

“I am engaged” - Fan quickly

“I am sorry” - Draw fan across the eye

“You have changed” - Draw fan across the forehead

“I hate you” - Draw fan through hand

“Do you love me?” - Present fan shut

“I love you” - Draw fan across cheek

“I love another” - Twirl fan in the right hand

“You are cruel” - Open and shut fan

“Yes” - Rest fan on the right cheek

“No” - Rest fan on the left cheek

“Kiss me” - Hold fan handle to lips

Resource: Duvellory's glossary of fan gestures