More than just a pretty embellishment, the Victorian parasols and fans served a practical purpose for Victorian ladies. Interested in maintaining a fashionable porcelain complexion, women in the Victorian era carried parasols as much to block the sun and shade themselves as they did for a fashion accessory. Fans, likewise, provided the practical purpose of cooling the lady in a fashionable way. Both fans and parasols were also tools of subtle flirtation and instilled a sense of modesty while adding a mysterious allure.
The Origin of the Victorian Parasol
The parasol was symbol of status in the Victorian era, but the parasol did not originate in Europe. Rather, the parasol came from China, where large parasols were used to shield imperial officials from harsh sunlight. Through the silk trade, the parasol made its way across the Orient and into Europe, where it became a popular accessory in France and England. Victorian women took the parasol as seriously as Oriental royalty had, and the parasol became a symbol of wealth in Europe as surely as it had been in the Orient.
The Origin of the Victorian Fan
Like the parasol, the fan was as much a fashion accessory as it was a tool, and just as the parasol did not originate in Victorian England, neither did the fan. Rather, the fan began as a product of the East, where in India fans were crafted from palm leaves. Throughout the East, fans were not only fashionable, but were necessary to dispel the oppressive heat. Early fans were made of a variety of materials, including leaves, ostrich feathers, ivory and even thinly worked sheets of gold.
The Victorian Parasol and Society
In Victorian England, a lady was discernible by the embellishments she carried. Umbrellas were accessories for poorer women, while wealthy women carried parasols as a mark of social rank, since parasols were tremendously expensive. Given their expense, parasols were often a popular gift for noble women by worthy suitors. Parasols had the practical purpose of blocking the sunlight and maintaining a lady's beautiful complexion, but even this had a social purpose. Pale skin was a sign that a lady was above the petty day-to-day toils of the lower-class working women.
The Victorian Fan and Society
For Victorian ladies, proper use of the fan was incredibly important. Flirtation was the fan's domain, and using a fan improperly could lead to embarrassment when the lady sent the wrong signal. The fan became a language between lady and friend, or suitor, as surely as between lady and foe. Victorian ladies were schooled in proper use of the fan as men were taught to use the sword. Fan exercises were a frequent occurrence, where ladies were taught how to properly wield their fans.
The Victorian Parasol and Fan Today
Today, such Victorian embellishments as the parasol and fan have become the domain of period aficionados and costumiers. Fans and parasols are particularly popular for weddings, such as garden and western weddings, and wedding parasols and fans are generally crafted of lace. Victorian parasols, in particular, have become popular fashion accessories within fashion niches, such as the Steampunk enthusiasts.
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