The History of the Parasol: Fashion's Newest - and Oldest - Trend

A new item on runways this spring is, unsurprisingly for the fashion world, not quite so new. The parasol is being touted as the must-have accessory for spring and the return of sunshine, but this trend is dipping back into history by thousands of years.

The parasol depicted in a 1670 painting by Charles Le BrunThe parasol depicted in a 1670 painting by Charles Le Brun

The parasol, along with its rainy-weather cousin, the umbrella, doesn't actually have a credited inventor. As a natural solution to keeping off the heat in humid climates, this invention evolved naturally. In ancient Egypt, the parasol was used both to provide protection from the sun and as a ceremonial accessory. In paintings and engravings from that period in history, it is shown protecting pharaohs and other members of royalty. In that time, the parasol was often made from palm leaves or colourful feathers. In ancient Greece, parasols were not only fashionable, but were also used by priestesses in religious ceremonies.

The use of the parasol to provide protection from the sun and heat was common in ancient Rome as well, making it prevalent in most of the powerful civilizations in history. However, it was ancient China that invented the collapsable parasol. Wang Mang, an official in the Han dynasty, designed an umbrella in the year 21 CE for a ceremonial carriage that could fold down when not needed. This invention doesn't seem to be unique for the time, however. Collapsable umbrellas and parasols have been discovered that date from even further in history, in the third and sixth centuries BCE. The latter invention was unearthed in the Chinese city of Luoyang and featured bronze hinges and intricate locking mechanisms.

Parasols in ChinaParasols in China

It was most likely China that inspired England and France's use of the parasol. Yet, it wasn't until the 17th century that they were put into use, more commonly in France. This invention didn't catch on in England until the 18th century.

Even now, with all of the improvements made to its design throughout history, the parasol isn't as commonly used as an umbrella. Perhaps the fashion world's renewed interest in this invention will encourage us all to become inspired by history.

Sources: MSNBC and Wikipedia
Images: Wikipedia

Some of the sites we link to are affiliates. We may earn a small commission if you use our links.