Umbrellas are as popular as ever. Some people have more than one; an everyday umbrella, a handbag umbrella, and maybe a spare one in the car. But have you ever wondered when they were first invented? We have, so we did some research.

The intriguing name ‘umbrella’ relates to the Latin word for shade. Back in the old days, umbrellas were generally seen as an accessory for the ladies only.

It was only thought to be proper for women to shield themselves from the elements, to keep skin from getting tanned, and so they could retain a pale complexion.

Towards the end of the 18th century men began to use them too, and they called them ‘Hanways, after the man who popularised it - Jonas Hanway.

But umbrellas were really invented much earlier - thousands of years ago in the ancient civilisations of the East - Egypt, China and Greece. Back then, they were introduced first of all as parasols to guard people against the blazing heat of the sun.

It’s funny how nowadays we tend to associate umbrellas with rainy days and thunderstorms, but back then, carrying an umbrella was more like wearing sunglasses.

The earliest umbrellas in Europe were made from materials such as whalebone, with handles, artistically curved to make them beautiful and easier to hold.

The modern design of metal ribbing was invented in the 19th century by Samuel Fox. London, 1830, was the destination for the first English umbrella shop, which went by the name of ‘James Smith and Sons.’

It wasn’t until 1928 that the first pocket umbrella was invented, in Austria. They’ve come a long way since. Earlier pocket umbrellas would collapse in the lightest wind, but nowadays professional versions exist to help business people stay dry and smart for work.

If you’re in the market for an umbrella, don’t just stop at the versions you’ve tried in the past. You can choose new colours and materials and designs to suit different outfits, give them as gifts or keep them for emergencies.

From those eastern parasols, to the ladies-only sun shades, to the contemporary golfing umbrella, they remain one of the classic everyday devices that we can't see ever going out of date.