Friday, November 18, 2011

The Resurgence of the Fan

Nancy with parasol at Colosseum
 We went to Europe this summer, and one of our stops was Italy.  I adore Europe and have visited a dozen times, but they don't do air conditioning the way we Americans are used to air conditioning.  I know we're spoiled.  I admit it.  And actually, much of the time we weren't inside, but outside.  Walking around Rome or Venice or Florence in 103-degree heat made us melt like gelato on the pavement. 

I don't do heat.  My favorite temperature is 60--with clouds (I should live in Seattle.)  Other than searching for a breeze, or hunting out shade, I discovered two things that saved me.  A parasol and a fan.  Fantastico!
Honestly, I cannot imagine walking around any American city with either, but in Europe I didn't feel foolish at all.  And strolling through Rome's Forum, or waiting to ascend the Eiffel Tower, they helped me survive the heat. 
Woman with Parasol by Renoir

It made me wonder why we've abandoned the parasol and fan.  The parasol probably went by the wayside because we now embrace having a tan.  But a hundred years ago, having porcelain skin revealed breeding.  Only people who worked for a living had tanned skin.  So I'll surrender the parasol--even though I don't do tans either.

But... the fan... 
Lady with a Fan by Aviat

Being a woman of a certain age, who goes through her own personal heat waves, I've started using one of two pretty fans I bought in Florence and at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C.  Yes, I receive a few odd looks, but I don't mind. It's far more elegant than fanning my flash with a menu or page of coupons.

In my research, I learned there was a Language of the Fan, where women could say secret things to the men in their lives by the flip of their fan.  Fanning with the right hand in front of your face meant "Follow me." Fanning with your left hand meant, "Don't flirt with that woman." Slowly fanning yourself meant, "Don't waste your time, I don't care about you."  While quickly fanning yourself meant, "I love you so much." 

Lady with a Fan by James Tissot
Yikes, would I be in big trouble!  Because I tend to fan with both hands (as one hand gives out) and at different speeds depending on the outer--and my inner--thermometer.  Any man who was trying to understand my fan-language would run in the other direction--with good cause. No wonder men complain that they can't understand women.

Which leads to a bigger question:  did men really understand this special, intricate language?  Not to disparage the other sex, but I've noticed that most men I know don't pay attention to what a woman is wearing, if their hair is worn up or down, or even if they wear glasses, much less notice whether the woman runs her fingers over the fan's ribs (meaning "I want to talk to you") or carries the fan closed with the left hand (meaning "I'm engaged.")  Sorry, but it ain't going to happen.  

Lady with a Fan by Mary Cassatt

Either men have changed drastically over the centuries, or the whole Language of the Fan is something women created and talked about amongst their friends, while the men never caught on.  Or if a rare one did . . . I bet he was very popular.
Also, there's the secrecy thing... why did they feel the need to be secret?  For instance, if you wanted to say goodbye to some man, why not go up to him and say goodbye, or even wave from across the room.  But saying goodbye in fan-speak, by placing the fan behind your head with a finger extended . . .  Goodness sakes. 

Besides, if every lady in the room knew the language, there wasn't much secrecy in it.  Imagine a room full of women all gesturing with their fans.  It would be like an opera when everyone sings their own line at the same time. Or the sideline of a football game, when the coaches are all gesturing frantically to get their play in.  Ha.  Women with fans were certainly getting their play in!

There is one message I could use on occasion: passing the fan from hand to hand means, "I see that you are looking at another woman."  But I've found that clearing the throat, or an elbow in the ribs works just as well.

For cooling purposes, and even as a fashion accessory, I'm all for the resurgence of the fan.  But for everyone's sake, let the language die.//Nancy

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mourning Dress

The August, 1891 Ladies Home Journal published this advice about mourning dress:

"Widow's, which is the deepest of all mourning, consists of a plain gown of Henrietta cloth or bombazine, with crape upon it or not ... the length of the veil differs, of course, according to one's height, but the real widow's veil should reach to the edge of the skirt, back and front,
and be finished by a hem a quarter of a yard wide. This is worn so that the whole figure is shrouded for three months; after that it is s thrown back, and at the end of another three months, a single veil, reaching to the waist, is worn. This may be worn for six months, and crape then be laid aside."

Since the veil in the photo on the right has been "thrown back," we can assume that this young widow's husband died over three months ago.

Prior to the Civil War, the widow's first year mourning attire consisted of black silk, with undersleeves and collar of black crepe, black crepe trimming, and black jet jewelry. The second mourning, after the first year, would have allowed white trim. As the 19th century wore on, customs required longer periods of mourning and "the rules" became more carefully defined. It was difficult for those who were less wealthy to keep all the rules. They could purchase ready-made mourning costumes from "mourning warehouses," and sometimes resorted to dyeing clothing they already owned black in order to follow the customs. Half mourning after 1860 allowed for women to wear soft mauve, violet, pansy, and lilac.

The ladies who read the 19th century article titled "Mourning and Funeral Usages" posted here:
would have shunned me. After all, when my husband died in 2001, I wore red to his funeral. Red. Horrors! Well ... his long cancer battle was over ... he'd graduated to heaven ... and ... it seemed right at the time.

Last week Nancy showed us how the photography profession was affected by the mourning industry. When we realize that over half a million men lost their lives in the Civil War ... when we think that a man's wife, mother, and children all went into deep mourning, we can also imagine the demands put on the textile industry. Just think what it was like on the streets of every city and town in America. Just think of all that black silk.

The textile industry responded to mourning customs with more than silk and crepe. Cotton mills began to produce specific prints known today as "mourning prints." In her book Clues in the Calico, textile historian Barbara Brackman writes, "the 1902 Sears catalog offered mourning prints 'at 5 1/2 cents per yard. Very Best Quality of Mourning Prints. These prints are very swell, and are worn by ladies or misses, are neat and will wash without fading."

While I wore red ... as the months went on and I was still in mourning, I realized that, while the Victorians may have taken it to the point of excess, there is something to be said for a public display that says, "I've lost someone dear to me ... please be kind."
I hope ever single widow pictured here is rejoicing in heaven even as we feel sad for them more than a century later.

May you know the reality of God's promise to turn out mourning into dancing .....Stephanie

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Lasting Memory

To cap off Halloween week, I'm going to share one of the most bizarre things I've ever encountered in my research:  family portraits that include a dead relative.  At first this didn't surprise me.  In their sorrow, the families surely wanted an image of the lost loved one--case in point this poignant photo of a grieving couple and their dead child from the mid-1800's.

But what disturbed me was finding out that often the photos were taken as if the dead were still alive.  They would paint eyes on the eyelids, and even add pink to their cheeks on the print.

But the most odd custom was propping the deceased up beside their living relatives.  There was even a special stand created for this purpose.

During the Victorian era this type of photography was very popular.  Actually, before photography, the wealthy often had portraits painted of their deceased relatives, often as they appeared alive, though there were sometimes a symbol of death in the portrait. 

This child was probably painted after he died

The girl in the photo at left is deceased.  Eyes have been painted on, there is an odd placement of the hands, and you can see the stand behind her feet.

Honestly, I understand that having images of their relatives might have given the families comfort, and I don't mind (as much) the photos of the deceased--looking deceased.  But propping them up . . . it seems to reveal a desperation.  But I can't judge them.  Grief confronts everyone differently, and who knows the sad stories behind their often untimely deaths.  Plus, since photos were expensive (though less expensive than having a portrait painted) rushing to get one last photo of a child, parent, or spouse is understandable.

There are many of these photos out there, but I'll let you explore the subject more at your own discretion.  Here is a very good website that also offers a good explanation about the evolution of photography.  Victorian Post Mortem Photos

May they all rest in peace . . ./Nancy