Can you imagine yourself getting out during a rainy day without holding the beloved shelter of an umbrella in your hand? Even if your raincoat matches your outfit and keeps your clothes dry while walking under the rain, the use of an umbrella has transcended generations, royal customs and cultures, becoming a necessity, a cheap but highly desirable device that can indeed protect the beholder as well as improve his or her overall appearance.
Primarily the umbrella was used as a sunshade device, usually carried by ladies in order to protect their fair skins’ tones from the harmful sunlight. According to ancient scripts and representations, the parasol, or commonly referred today as the umbrella, was first seen in China, roughly 2,400 years ago. A human invention that according to historians its present form is based on the simpler practice of tiding together large leaves to form a protection shelter against the rain or the sun. Waving the original designs in the air in front of a high ranking individual, was a practice that was transferred through trade and the “Silk Road” to other ancient civilizations, like the Persians, the Egyptians, or the Greeks, from whom the Romans first saw it and continued to carry it as a symbol of class or even royalty. Religious leaders or people with higher social status were the usual beneficiaries who enjoyed the umbrella’s protection characteristics.
Nevertheless, things changed over the years and in 17th century England, umbrellas were already used as rain protectors. In particular, Jonas Hanway, was the first Englishman credited with having habitually carried an umbrella during his frequent travels. Those years, the umbrella had a long heavy handle, with ribs of whalebone or cane and sometimes even made of metal. The covering material consisted of oiled silk or cotton and it was William Sangster who in 1848 patented the use of alpaca as an umbrella’s covering material. A few years later, in 1852, Samuel Fox was the one who introduced the innovative “U” design for the umbrella’s steel-ribbed skeleton so as to combine lightness, increase strength and improve its ribs elasticity.
Today, umbrellas are used by all both as a sun and rain protection mechanism. As classes and power roles are now signified by a different, more expensive set of apparatus, umbrella manufacturers have promoted a different image for the contemporary umbrellas’ uses. From the famous Hollywood scene in which Gene Kelly is singing in the rain and dances around the city’s streets holding an umbrella, to the hot summer beaches where umbrellas are used as sun protection devices, umbrellas are always in fashion and most importantly, always in need. Found in a great variety of rain, beach, patio, pool, or parasol umbrellas, and produced in different sizes and color schemes, umbrellas have been an element of focus for centuries and a device that once even signified social class, royalty and power.
— Jonathon Hardcastle