Parasols are old as the oldest zivilisations. In Persia, Egypt and India pictograms and sculptures are found that are over 1200 years old. Materials of parasols and canopies were from palm leaves or feathers in Egypt, to constructions of bamboo and paper in China. The latter were collapsible and waxed or lacquered, so that they withstood a rain shower.
In the early 16th Century, parasols became popular in France through Catherine di Medici who brought one for her wedding with the Duke of Orléans in 1533. In the early 17th Century, these umbrellas were made of leather and used in Italy by horsemen while riding, and by women and a few men in unsheltered theatres in Rome. Lighter materials such as cotton or silk were soon being used, the spokes were either made of wood or of fish bone, and the main colour was green for quite some time because this colour makes the face underneath the parasol look pale.
In 18th-Century England, parasols completed every fashionable woman's wardrobe, matching the various outfits. As in Egypt all those centuries before, a pale skin indicated the high rank of the owner, signifying that they didn't need to work outdoors, or work at all. Along with the fashion changed the number of spokes, the size of cover, the length of the handle and the colours and patterns. In around 1800, the cover often wasn't larger than a handkerchief with just four spokes, but the handle had a length of 80cm. About 50 years later, parasols that could be buckled at half length became very popular because it was easier to carry them. They were only about 40 - 50cm, with the handle being about 50 - 60cm long.
At that time, parasols had more purposes than just that of protecting ladies from the sun; they were used as a means with which to flirt, as well as to keep unwanted persons at bay. Though the difference between parasol and umbrella may be confusing today, it was absolutely clear to Victorian society. A woman who carried an umbrella was admitting publicly that she could not afford to own or hire a carriage for transportation when it was raining. But a woman with a parasol was most assuredly a lady, she carried it in fair weather and if she was riding in a carriage, she made sure her driver pulled down its convertible top, so that her parasol was exposed, clearly indicating her dress and position to everyone she passed. With the end of the 19th Century, the handles got longer and longer, reaching their greatest length of up to 115cm in 1910 - this meant they reached up to their chest.
And why am I interested in this topic? Because it can be a fashion item once again. I live matching parasol for my outfit and in autumn it´s very handy to have one with you ever day. Let´s be inspired by the magic of a beautifull umbrella.