Throughout history, umbrellas have been used for a variety of purposes including protection from the weather to simply decorative fashion.
The ancient Chinese created the first umbrellas over 3,000 years ago by using silk and paper.
As with so many of the inventions of the Chinese, the umbrella wasn’t just functional, they made them true works of art with color and designs.
Umbrellas for the rich
The original design of the umbrella was not only time consuming but costly. Silk was very expensive and when the ancient Chinese artisans added their art, the price ended up being something that only the wealthy could afford.
The frames of these umbrellas were made from mulberry bark and bamboo that was at least five years old.
They were commonly used by noble families, royalty, and wealthy merchants. Chinese artists would paint the silk top of the umbrellas with designs that might include nature, animals, flowers, scenery, landscapes, dragons, writing, or even other mythological creatures.
Around the 1st century BC, silk on the umbrellas was replaced with paper and this made them a bit more accessible to wealthy females as a fashion accessory.
The designers added a protective layer of oil on the paper so that it would protect the owner from the rain.
Since umbrellas were still handmade by artisans, the cost was fairly high and having either silk or paper umbrella was a symbol of wealth and prosperity.
The royal members of Chinese aristocracy carried only yellow or red umbrellas, while the rest of the population used umbrellas in blue colors.
As time progressed, the cost of the umbrellas came down and this allowed the general population to have access to umbrellas.
By the third century AD the ancient Chinese began adding new and inventive innovations such as extendable shafts, a collapsing mechanism, and even umbrellas for carriages and horse riders.
Umbrellas as a trend
The beauty of art on umbrellas became a sense of pride and tradition. The fashion trend expanded into other countries so that the royalty of Burma, Siam, and even Korea were seen with their umbrellas.
However, it was in Japan that umbrellas became intertwined as part of their culture. Umbrellas helped to protect the skin of the women in Japan and pale skin was considered a measurement of beauty.
The one main reason that pale skin was revered is that laborers that were out in the sun often had darker tanned skin. Having pale skin showed that an individual was too well to do to have to work outside.
As traders traveled the Silk Road they brought with them many of the fashions and inventions of the ancient Chinese.
During the time when Europe was finally coming out of the Dark Ages, they were hungry for things exotic and new.
The colorful umbrellas that were brought from the distant land of China captured the fashion tastes of Europe.
It soon became common for the nobility in England, France, and Italy to be carrying umbrellas.
- Our word “umbrella” is derived from the Latin word “umbra” which means shadow or shade.
- Various names for the umbrella around the world include: bumbershoot, parasol, parapluie, and brolly.
- It wasn’t until the middle of the 18thcentury that both men and women in Europe used umbrellas. Before that, umbrellas were considered to be a fashion accessory for women only.
- The first man that carried an umbrella in public was Jonas Hanway, an Englishman. His action changed the way umbrellas were viewed.
- Many religions use parasols and umbrellas as part of their processions and ceremonies.
- Today’s umbrellas are coated with the chemical Teflon to make the canopy top waterproof.
- The nobility of England prefer umbrellas that are made from green or blue silk.
- The first folding umbrella was introduced to society in 1969 by Bradford Philips.
What are two other names that people sometimes call umbrellas?
bumbershoot, parasol, parapluie, and brolly.
What were the original ancient Chinese umbrellas made from?
silk and wood
What innovative change was made in the design of umbrellas that made it more affordable?
changing silk to paper
What country adopted umbrellas as part of their culture?
Why were umbrellas popular for women in various countries?
protected their skin and pale skin was a sign of beauty
What color of umbrellas were carried by ancient Chinese royalty?
yellow or red
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