The Evolution Of The Umbrella
November 20, 2018
Here in the UK, it is said we spend ten million pounds of umbrellas every single year, but with the typical British weather pattern, this accessory is almost a complete necessity if you are planning to stay dry and protected.
Now, although the umbrella is a very common addition to more often someone's hallway it hasn't always been the case as once upon a time it was only the most high ranking of civilians who had ownership of an umbrella. So, where did the brolly actually come from? How was it first used? And also how has it transformed into the accessory we use today.
4th Century BC
The word ‘umbrella’ actually comes from the Latin word ‘umbra’ which means shade and originally no one used it them for protection against the rain as its prime use was to safeguard humans from the sun which is what we now call a parasol which was derived from the Spanish words for stop (para) and sun (sol).
Although some believe that umbrellas were used in China as 2,000 BC, most claim it was actually around 4,000 that the design became a widely used accessory. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Egyptians as well as civilisations in India and the Middle East were all reportedly used the umbrella as a parasol. With regards to its design, many predict that the umbrella was largely influenced by large trees due to its original use as a shaving implement. Early umbrellas and parasols were often actually made from leaves, feathers and branches too.
So when did we start using the umbrella for rain protection? A lot of people place the date that we initially first used the umbrella as a form of rain protection in the 1600’s. During that time, most umbrellas were created using silk and as you can imagine it did not offer that much in the way of water resistance. Apart from the difference in fabric and also the fact that only the privileged people actually was fortunate enough to own one, the outline of the 17th-century umbrella mirrors what we see today.
A real rising trend in sociable coffee houses and also the need to shelter people as they walked from venues to their carriages added some added pressure on the umbrella industry.
According to reports in the first half of the 1700s, umbrellas remained strictly a sole female accessory although they did grow rapidly in popularity. It was around 1750 that a gentleman named Jonas Hanway took it upon himself to launch a trend in men’s umbrellas when protecting himself with a rain umbrella as he wandered the streets of London. He put up with some intense ridicule for this quite daring style at the time, however, more men came around the idea and the trend started to take off. By the 19th Century, the rain umbrella became a common accessory for both men and women and was also the era that the term ‘Hanway’ was used as another name for an umbrella.
Once umbrellas established themselves as a genderless accessory in their own right it was then a device in their construction started. Men's umbrellas were generally designed a little heavier while women’s brollies were still made with silk materials and a much smaller size.
This is where the modern umbrella took off. Using steel frames and there was a more generic size with more styles and colours starting to appear. Folding, kids and wedding umbrellas also came into popularity. With technology also improving there are always new and exciting ways to keep dry in the rain but the trust umbrella has been around for a long time will be around a long time to come too.