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Articles on Vintage Swimwear > A Brief History of the Umbrella and Parasol

1 Dec 2007


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Glamoursurf eNews

December 2007 Newsletter 

Wishing You & Your's a Happy Healthy Holdiay Season!

The umbrella/Parasol has been used for centuries as a religious symbol, status symbol, an erotic symbol as well as to keep the rain and sun away. Not only is it a tool but also a wonderful design element.


A Brief History of the Umbrella & Parasol
Long an indispensable 19th century fashion accessory, the umbrella actually has a long history. Origins can be traced back to as far as 3000 years ago, although the umbrella was a religious symbol at that time, rather than a useful item.  The Egyptians held umbrellas over their distinguished nobles to denote their higher plane of authority, and to symbolize the vault of heaven over a king. The ancient Greeks also used the umbrella with their deity, beginning as an erotic symbol associated with Bacchus, but evolving into a means of providing shade.  The costume parasol persisted as a fashion in Rome for many centuries, its use continuous to the present day.


By the middle ages, the umbrella was very popular in Asia and Africa. Its popularity was spread to Portugal after colonists reported their use in Asia and Africa.  The custom then spread to France and England.  Parasols were also used in hunting expeditions in France, but more for the wealthy than the commoner. 


As travelers returned  home, the umbrella was slowly introduced. In the late 1600s the waterproof umbrella came into its own, although they were more common among women than men. Until now, people scurried for cover when it began to rain.     

In the 18th Century, the umbrella was also being used and advertised as a sunshade.  A Paris manufacturer even had a folding model for the pocket.  The parasol provided a welcome alternative to protection from the sun.  But although it was becoming more popular, it wasn't a common sight until the last half of the 18th century, as they cumbersome and heavy.  As designs improved, so did use.  A typical umbrella would have as a stick a metal tube containing a spiral spring which acted upon and pressed upwards an inner rod. This frame was usually passed along to a milliner to cover it. 


By 1800, the parasol and umbrella had achieved separate identities.  The parasol had become a luxury item of fashion, and the umbrella was a functional protection against the rain.  The parasol was light and elegant, constantly changing in style, material and colors.  It served as a dress accessory, shade from the sun and could be used to hide from unwelcome advances.  The umbrella was inelegant, and very few were considered suitable for persons of refinement.  The umbrella steadily descended on the social scale, as the elegant sunshade began to increase as a fashionable dress accessory. 


It is no wonder that women began to flaunt their latest parasol in an open carriage ride. They were used as much for protection as they were for flirting.  Parasols for carriage rides were generally smaller than those for walking.  Some models even came complete with a flask in the handle for the benefit of travelers. Towards the end of the 19th century, covers of chiffon and fancy silk on very long sticks became the fashion.  Ladies carried their umbrellas closed more than open, and gentleman carried theirs tightly furled to resemble a walking stick.  Popularity of the umbrella and parasol as a fashion accessory continued into the early years of the first world war. 


1953 Catalina Umbrella SwimsuitCatalina Bathing Suit
Glamoursurf is offering this cute Parasol themed swim suit in our store now. This beauty has a fun umbrella print in shades of pink and white on a black background. The label is dated 1953 and made by Catalina.

We've also added some vintage umbrellas and parasols to our website to help protect you from the suns rays. They can be found here.

Wishing you a Happy Holiday Season!

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a happy prosperous New Year! As our gift to you this holiday season, we are offering a 25% discount throughout our store for the month of December only. Just use the keyword Holiday as a discount code when placing your order anytime between now and December 31, 2007. Discount code is available as a one time use only, so combine all your shipping in one purchase to take 25% off your entire order.


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