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Parasols in Victorian era

Parasols in the Victorian era:

What is a Parasol?

A parasol was more like a mini canopy used by women in the Victorian era. Sunshade items can be dated back to thousands of years but the use of an umbrella-like came to be used in Europe in the early 1700’s. They were introduced during the Italian Renaissance in the 16th century and came to into the rest of Europe only after that.

A parasol from the Victorian Era

Some were heavy, stiff and huge, made of pure leather. Some were simple and light weighted for the young ladies to carry by themselves. The heavy stiff ones were carried by the servants of the Queens and Princesses.

How Were Parasols made?

Back when the parasols were only a woman’s fashion item, they were used only as protection from the sun and its harmful elements. Hence, the canopy was made of thin cloth or paper and the ribs were made of thin sticks of wood. These parasols were weak and easily breakable in windy situations and rain.

Parasols in Victorian era
Parasols in a Victorian era

Therefore, the ribs started being made with strong thin metals and the canopy was made of leather or silk to create resistance in the sun and the rains as well. The early Victorian era improved in metallurgy wherein they became skilled in learning to make alloys of different metals.

Nickel and silver were particularly used very often. The German craftsman tried to imitate the Chinese combination of nickel, zinc, copper called the paktong. The paktong was used to make the ribs in the early 18th century.

The significance of a Parasol in the Victorian Era

The parasol indicated a lot of things. There was a clear difference between an umbrella and a parasol. An umbrella gave a clear indication that the woman cannot own or hire a carriage while it’s raining.

On the other hand, a woman with a parasol was a LADY and would travel in the carriage in such a way that the driver would have to put down the top of the carriage so the parasol was exposed.

Woman Using Parasol
A woman with a parasol.

It was considered to be a sign of beauty. The Victorian era admired a fair complexion. Women had beautiful and flawless skin which was protected from the sun by the parasol. The parasol went with a bonnet that covered their delicate skin.  The parasol had become an item of fashion.

The ladies who could afford them were among the nobles and the royals. They could, therefore, own one for each outfit. The Parasol had become one of the most admirable gifts to present to a woman because of their popularity, expense, and charm.

How was a Parasol carried in the Victorian Era?

Depending on the price, the parasols varied in sizes. Some were tiny, only covering the woman’s face. Some were large, acting as a canopy to her dress as well. During the early Victorian period, when parasols were newly introduced in the European market, they were plain and simple.

Woman Using Parasol
A woman with a parasol.

They came in different colors but were simple in appearance and easily perishable. But as popularity increased during the mid-1800’s, parasols became creatively beautiful and multi-colored. They became laced from the edges. They were made of materials like brushed chiffon.

Handles were made of carved ivory or hand-painted porcelain. Silk and leather were being used. Even the middle class or the poorer ladies made sure they owned a minimum of two parasols- one in white and the other in black silk.

Princess Alice Using a Parasol
Princess Alice from the Victorian era, with a parasol in 1859.

Lord Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress would use a pink lined parasol which would make her skin look younger when the pink reflection fell on her face. The women carried the parasols over their shoulders where the canopy fell on the back of their heads.

How Parasols disappeared from the Victorian Markets

In the 1740’s, the Parasols were introduced in North America by the wives or daughters of British merchants and traders. They were regarded as an “English fashion” and were not adopted and never grew in popularity in these areas.

Therefore, they remained in Europe.  But, factors such as the change in social climate made parasols seemed outmoded. A tanned, pale skin started to give more of a status symbol. It meant that the owner didn’t have to work and is wealthy enough to sit on the beach all day. Then, rolled stockings and cloche hats made the parasols disappear.

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