Fashionable ladies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were known for carrying a variety of personal accessories, including gloves, pomanders (scented jeweled balls), handkerchiefs, and fans. Fans had been used in China from as early as 3000 B.C.E. and were popular in Japan beginning in the seventh century C.E. People began to use feather fans during the Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500) and the rigid board fan, usually made of decorated wood, came into use in Italy early in the sixteenth century. The folding fan was imported to Europe from the Orient in the sixteenth century and quickly became popular among noblewomen in the courts of Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and England.
As with other elements of costume from this period, decoration was the key to the fan. Fans could be made of all variety of materials, from exotic bird feathers to delicate lace to gilded wood. No expense was spared to make fans for the richest women. The way that a fan was used was also an important part of a woman's overall presentation. A woman might shyly hide her face behind a spread fan, or wave her fan about in a dramatic manner.
De Vere Green, Bertha. Fans Over the Ages: A Collector's Guide. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1979.
Yarwood, Doreen. The Encyclopedia of World Costume. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.
[ See also Volume 2, Early Asian Cultures: Fans ]