A parasol is a lightweight, umbrella-like structure carried for protection from the sun, and most often made from lace, cotton, or silk. The word parasol literally means “for sun” in Spanish.
Parasols did not appear in America until 1740, but they originated in the East Indies about 5,000 years prior to that. By the 1860s, large bonnets and hats had gone out of fashion, and Victorian ladies adopted the parasol as a way to protect themselves from the sun. In this way, the parasol became a status symbol, since fair skin indicated a lady didn’t have to work. A “lady” was never seen carrying an umbrella, as umbrellas were used by gentlemen to escort ladies from carriages to doors, but when a Victorian lady rode in an open top carriage or strolled outdoors, she always kept her parasol up and on display. The parasol was trimmed with an assortment of materials, such as silk tassels or cotton lace, and made specifically to complement certain outfits!
In the 19th century, a parasol was a popular gift for a gentleman to bestow upon his “intended.” Due to their extravagance and expense, it was considered a serious impropriety for a gentleman to give a lady a parasol as a gift unless his intentions were serious, and it was likewise considered indecorous for a young lady to accept the gift unless she was serious about the guy.
In the 1920s, a tan complexion (which indicated leisure vacations to exotic locales) replaced fair skin as a status symbol, and parasols were relegated to the attic.
Today, with increased awareness of damaging UV rays and skin cancer, women are becoming more proactive about protecting their skin. Do you think it’s time we brought back the parasol, or are you a sunblock-only kind of gal? Cast your vote, and/or leave a comment below!