Parasols said it best in an era when people often had to communicate without words. Imagine life minus email, cell phones, Facebook, or twitter. Whatever did they do? Gloves and fans worked well for indoor events. But when it came to outdoor meetings, many preferred to twirl, tap or tip a parasol to deliver a private message to that “certain someone.”
One Twirl Of The Parasol Was Worth A Thousand Words
Here’s a partial list of the Language of the Parasol from “A Step Back In Time.”
According to Susan Ardelie in Making History Tart and Titillating, it was during the Italian Renaissance that parasols became popular in Europe. Initially they were large, awkward affairs. Some weighed as much as 3.5 pounds. Obviously, secret messages were not being twirled across the park with these early parasols. To the contrary, these models required the assistance of burly servants.
It wasn’t until the latter half of the 1600s that the parasol matured into an elegant accessory used much like a fan. During the 1700s, parasols evolved into the “must-have” fashion item of the day. They were often decorated to match dresses worn on the promenade. Their stated purpose was to protect delicate skin from the ravages of the sun. Their unspoken purpose was a secret tool for flirtation.
Parasols were in “full swing” during the Victorian Era. With the Industrial Revolution came great improvements in the production of metals. In 1852, Samuel Fox innovated the steel ribbed umbrella, using up stocks bought for making corsets. Alloy ribs made parasols lighter, sturdier and more flexible. Wealthy women owned many, but even the poorest girl had one for special days.
In the 1860s the marquis parasol was all the rage. It tilted at the top, allowing a lady to shade her face from the sun at any angle. According to Originals By Kay the earliest examples have plain handles painted black with a ball or plain hook at the end. As the era progressed, the handles became more ornate and often displayed intricate carvings.
Parasols of ancient times were used largely to shade nobility. With servants in tow, this was a sign of success and great honor. Men had no problem being seen under a parasol.
In Europe however, no self-respecting male would touch one. That changed slowly, thanks to English doctor Jonas Hanway who began carrying an umbrella in 1756. Not one to succumbed to scorn, Hanway continued carrying his umbrella until it became the must-have item we know today. Englishmen often referred to their umbrellas as the Hanway.
Ancient cultures used parasols for shade from the sun an estimated 4,000 years ago. Several Egyptians hieroglyphics depict parasols. They are portrayed in literature and art across Egypt, China, Greece and India. Early versions were fashioned from palm leaves and sticks, paper, fabric, feathers and animal skins.
In their earliest years, parasols were a luxury for gods, royalty, nobility and clergy. In China, parasols for nobility frequently had multiple layers. The Chinese are believed to be the first people to waterproof their parasols (a.k.a. umbrellas), by using oiled or waxed paper.
Parasols are still widely used in India and China. Should we follow their lead? Are you tired of slathering on sunscreen every hour and wearing ridiculous floppy hats that never stay in place? If your answer is a resounding ‘yes,’ maybe it’s time to make a new fashion statement. No doubt, Nellie Bly would be leading a parasol rebellion if she was among us today.
Racing Nellie Bly
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