Victorian fans brush up on protocol

PORT TOWNSEND — In Victorian times, shutting a hand fan slowly could lead to a breach of promise.

Fanning quickly signaled would-be suitors that the lady was spoken for.

And if the lady you fancied was fanning slowly?

“That means she’s already married,” Pat Durbin said.

Victorian customs and fashions will be on display at this weekend’s Victorian Festival.

Events that epitomize the Victorian era include the Grand Ball at 8 p.m. Saturday at the fairgrounds and high tea at Manresa Castle on Sunday starting at 1 p.m.

Last week, Durbin and three generations of the DeLong family — Mary Ann DeLong, her daughter-in-law, Sue DeLong, and granddaughter, Savan DeLong, paid a visit to Kah Tai Care Center, where they previewed their dresses and feathery bonnets and showed that there’s more to wielding a fan than meets the eye.

“The Victorian lady used her fan not only to cool herself, but also to heat up a romance,” Durbin said.

The women, members of the Victorian Society in America, were invited to Kah Tai by activities director Doug Taylor as part of the program for the residents’ weekly ice cream social.

The residents were first offered a choice of a red or white feathered fan, then shown the variety of messages that could be sent with it.

Some obvious

Some were obvious, like a fan placed on or near the heart to say “I love you.”

Others were more subtle, like touching the right eye with the fan, which meant “When may I see you?”

The time of an assignation could be indicated by opening that number of sticks, Durbin explained, while placing a half-opened fan on the lips was an invitation to a kiss.

But male admirers may have found it hard to remember whether placing the fan on the left cheek meant yes or no.

Or if twirling a closed fan in the right hand, drawing it through the hand or dropping it was a good sign.

“It helps if your boyfriend had the same list,” Durbin said.

The festival schedule for Saturday includes a presentation by Tames Alan on formal Victorian dining.

Called “Trial by Fork,” Alan, a living history presenter, blends humor into her demonstration of the proper use of silver and china for a 12-course dinner, along with manners and suitable topics of conversation.

Fashion show

Also on Saturday is the Victorian Fashion Show, starting at 3 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church.

Admission to the show, put on by JoAnn Bussa, is by donation and benefits the Jefferson County Historical Society scholarship fund.

Historical society docents in costume will lead walking tours of the downtown and uptown historic districts during the festival weekend.

For more information, go to

Victorian Festival events include a guided bus tour and a Victorian homes tour. For tickets, go to

The festival is sponsored by the Northwest Chapter of the Victorian Society in America, with proceeds benefiting preservation, restoration and education on the heritage of the 19th century.


Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter-columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at [email protected]

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