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Before it was famous: the umbrella through the ages

You might be wondering where the umbrella’s past lies, where the advancements came from and why it was used. We can tell you the answers to all of the aforementioned questions, and more. Just stay with us, and before you know it you’ll be an umbrella history aficionado!

A collection of umbrellas from Jollybrolly

Rewind to the end of the Stone Age, and advancements in culture and technology paved the way for our ancestors to improve and develop their lifestyle. One of the advancements that enabled them to live their lives in an easier and more comfortable way was the umbrella and parasol, respectively.


These tools for lifestyle comfort slowly managed to develop from exclusive use by the wealthy and royal contingent to one of the most commonly used objects the modern world has at its disposal.


The initial use of sun protecting parasol, on record, comes from Ancient Egyptians, more than 3,500 years ago. Originally used with crude, but effective, configurations of palm leaves attached to one end of a stick, it wasn’t long before Egyptian parasols had evolved into an object that was used by religious leaders, nobles, and royalty alike. In these times, nobles enforced a culture of pale skin that was to be untouched by sunlight. Numerous hieroglyphic paintings discovered in ancient Egyptian ruins depicted the life of royalty and gods, all of which sported parasols over their heads.


Due to the desert-like conditions of northern Africa and the Middle East, Egyptians never found a necessity in waterproofing their parasols and creating umbrellas. This is where the Chinese come in. In the 11th century BC the first silk and waterproof umbrellas started to be used by royalty and noble figures. In order to display varying signs of power, influential people carried multi-tiered umbrellas. The Chinese Emperor himself was protected with an impressive four tiers of a very extravagant parasols. It wasn’t long before similar tradition began spreading across the region, and the rulers of neighbouring Burma and Siam (now known as Thailand) were opting to use parasols with layers that varied from 8 to twenty four layers!


Umbrellas came to Ancient Greece and Rome as the 1st Millennia BC came around. Again, they were viewed as luxury, but this time it was as a female accessory. Historians have noted how both Greek and Roman women owned umbrellas that were able to open and close, only now, they were carried by slaves and servants, as opposed to noble women of the time. Sometimes they were mounted on horses or carriages. Men on the other hand, saw umbrellas as an item that only females should own and it was only effeminate Roman men who would openly join women under the protective shade of their umbrellas.


Following the fall of the Roman Empire during the 5th century AD, use of the umbrella almost completely disappeared from Europe altogether. It was only with the arrival of the Renaissance era that saw umbrellas make a comeback and forge its way into popularity once again. As with its initial origin, it was most commonly used by the regal and noble members of society in late 16th and 17th century England, France, and Italy. By that time, umbrellas were being created from silk and a range of other expensive materials that weren’t capable of offering the user lasting protection from the wetter of the elements. But their common shape and design, which took advantage of modern technology to enabled easier opening and closing, bared a similar resemblance to those that were used by Greek and Roman women in 4th century BC.


As time went by and the centuries were clocking up, the handy use of the umbrella slowly began to make its way across the whole of Europe and following the "Age of Discovery" over to Northern America too. However, tradition of female use maintained its presence, a strong one at that, until the mid-18th century. This was to eventually change when a man by the name of Jonas Hanway, founder of English Magdalen Hospital, saw it befitting to appear in public carrying an umbrella for almost all occasions, regardless of the social stigma.


As you might expect, Hanway was very much ridiculed to begin with, mainly from the male population of England. It wasn’t until the 1790’s that the use of umbrellas by men was finally accepted, at which time there was a wider range of more reinforced and heavier umbrellas being produced and marketed.


Umbrellas slowly became accepted by one and all as a general accessory that both men and women could use as the centuries went by, and with the ever-growing technical advancements paving the way for the production of modern day umbrella, the brolly solidified itself in every day life.


The umbrellas most noteworthy inventions that helped shape its presence in modern society was Hans Haupt's introduction of pocket umbrellas in 1928, and in 1969, Bradford E Phillips' introduction of the modern folding mechanism. Umbrellas even found their way into religious ceremonies of Catholic Church as a part of the papal regalia, as well as oriental Orthodox Churches, where umbrellas are used to honour significant people or an object of holy relevance.


Innovations of umbrella technology and manufacture still continue to be refined, altered and tested today, with many patents being submitted annually.


At Jollybrolly we have a wonderful range of umbrellas that you can choose from, including golf and dome umbrellas, as well as wedding and city styles. So no matter what the occasion is, we’ve got you covered.