An Extension of Clothing

Figure 1: Chinese made fan, 1700-1730.

Fans, or éventail, were a necessary accessory in 18th century France. They were invented in China between 2700-2250 BCE. (See Figure 1.) They appeared in France in the 14th century, but remained mostly unused until Louis XIV’s reign in the 17th century. They had intricate patterns and scenes depicted on them. In the late 18th century, when Marie Antoinette began to simplify her dress, fans also became less ornate.

Figure 2: Fans as the extension of clothing

Fans were not allowed to be open in the presence of a sovereign, unless making a formal presentation. Fans were carried in the hand and became a necessary accessory and an extension of the dress. They were used more for fashion than for comfort. Fans can be seen in Jean-Michel Moreau engravings, “Monument du Costume”. In La Dame du Palais de la Reine, a woman has a folding fan that is similarly patterned like her dress. (See Figure 2.) This fan is being used as an accessory and complements the dress. The fan is not used as a device to remain cool.

Figure 3: Fan Maker Plate I, Encyclopédie



Figure 4: Plate IV Fan Maker, Assembly of Fans

In France, fan making was a women’s trade. In Figure 3, there is a small workshop where the workers have different tasks. These workshops were not large because fans were often imported from China.To make a folding fan, fabric would be put on a frame and decorated. The fabric was pressed to create the desired fold. Then it would be cut on one end and placed onto 16-22 fan sticks. After placed on the fan sticks, the fabric would be cut on the opposite end to ensure the fan had the correct shape. (See Figure 4.)

There are many types of hand fans. During the 18th century, the most popular varieties included folding fans, brisé fans, lorgnette fans, and peeping fans.

Figure 5: Folding Fan, 1750-1760, French made

Folding fans were very popular in France among nobility. They consisted of fan sticks made of ivory or mother-of-pearl that were attached to a painted fabric. Vellum and taffeta were commonly used on these fans. Romantic, mythological, and historical scenes were painted in watercolor. (See Figure 5.)

Figure 6: Brisé Fan, 1775-1800, French made

Brisé fans were originally seen in Europe in 17th century Italy. Many fans of this style were imported from China. They were popular in 18th century France. Unlike the folding fan, there is no leaf on them; they are composed entirely of fan sticks held together by a ribbon. Brisé fan sticks were made of tortoiseshell or mother-of-pearl and can either be painted or carved to create a pattern. (See Figure 6.)

Figure 7: Lorgnette Fan, 1760-1780, French made


Lorgnette fans were created circa 1759, and were used at the theater. They had small lenses in the hinges to allow the holder to watch others discreetly. Similarly, peeping fans were often used in the theater. Instead of having lenses in the hinges, they had transparent windows. (See Figure 7.)

Different styles of fans were used in different situations. But whatever the situation, they were always a necessary part of an ensemble. Fans are still produced today, but aren’t as commonly used as an accessory.



Delpierre, Madeleine. Dress in France in the Eighteenth Century. Paris, France: Yale University Press

The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project, FAN MAKER, Plates I and II and III AND IV, vol. 4 (1765). 31 Oct. 2012. <>.

“European Fans.” The Fitzwilliam Museum. University of Cambridge, n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2012. <>.

“Fan.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Web. 31 Oct. 2012. <>.

Takeda, Sharon Sadako. Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915. Los Angeles, CA. Prestel USA


Figure 1: Fan. Photograph. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Web. 2 Nov. 2012. <>.

Figure 2: Moreau, Jean-Michel. La Dame Du Palais De La Reine. 1789. Engraving. Monument Du Costume.

Figure 3: The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project, FAN MAKER, Plate I, vol. 4 (1765). 4 Nov. 2012. <>.

Figure 4: The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project, FAN MAKER, Plate IV, vol. 4 (1765). 31 Oct. 2012. <>.

Figure 5: Fan. Photograph. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Web. 31 Oct. 2012. <>

Figure 6: Fan. Photograph. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Web. 31 Oct. 2012. <>.

Figure 7: Lorgnette Fan. Photograph. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.<>.

Alley Singer

3 Responses to Fans

  1. jipark2 says:

    I didn’t know that fans were around in France since in the 14th century, but weren’t popularized until the 18th century. Could the ‘Sun King’ have influenced the fashion of fans as an advocate of oriental goods? It’s also interesting to note how fan-making was a women-only profession which makes me wonder why men never took it up if fans became a hot commodity back then. Maybe it was because fans have been, and still are, a feminine accessory? I wonder how came up with that rule about not being able to open a fan in front of a sovereign. I also like how you included all the different types of fans and how some fans like the lorgnette and peeping fans have lenses or windows through which ladies could spy on others. It really says something about the nosiness of people at the time.

  2. potun says:

    I found the read to be very interesting.

  3. jhughes says:

    This was so cool to read, I didn’t know anything about fans before this. I wonder why they weren’t popular in France until Louis XIV’s reign: did he had a signature outfit that involved a fan and brought them into style? It was interesting learning that there are different fans for different occasions, like the theatre fan that has larger slits in the bottom so as to see the show through.

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