The lace canopy that shields from torrents and sunbeams possesses a history that spans the centuries back to the East Indies 5000 years past. But the French popularized the hand-held accessory during the reign of King Louis XIV when couturiers would fabricate lavishly trimmed parasols to match splendid gowns. England caught a glimpse of this trend and followed suit with less frivolous versions in the 18th century. The flawless faces of Japanese women were testament to a silk parasol’s value and the sunbrella earned international acclaim. It is written that the first parasol-spotting in the United States took place in Windsor, Connecticut in 1787 when a worldly fashionista introduced the sunshade to our region. Along with the embroidered hanky and hand-held silk fan, the parasol became a flirtatious tool behind which a maiden would pose as coy, demure and innocent. Feminine wiles depended upon the elaborate accessory.
Parasols were twirled by lofty women of the leisure class. Porcelain complexions implied aristocracy while bronzed skin belonged to field laborers with a working-class stigma. But the brazen Flappers of the 1920’s rendered the fair-of-face notion outmoded. Women of worth were basking on the Riviera sands and tossing corset mentality to the wind. Inhibitions were left by the wayside and a straightforward gender equality declared the delicate umbrella obsolete.
But just as the crystalline winter season concedes to balmy spring, the cyclical rhythm of fashion has returned to romance with a healthy practicality. Harmful ultraviolet rays are a serious threat to pretty faces everywhere. And as the leafy expanse of a sprawling oak tree sheds a cool peace upon us, so does the shelter of a more petite version. In regard to the parasol’s coquettish purposes, well, that is certainly a fringe benefit…
Wishing you shade in the Indian Summer sun!