Three thousand years ago umbrellas and parasols were created in ancient Egypt, Assyria, India and China. They later migrated to Europe and have developed in design, material and popularity in modern eras. Naturally, a hand held umbrella and parasol are used as shields from the elements.
With respect to vocabulary, the terms umbrella and parasol are often used interchangeably within different nations. However, modern umbrellas (in Latin umbra is “shade”) are created with heavier waterproof materials such as polyester and nylon to block out rain, snow and hail. Generally, an umbrella has a curved handle to allow for easy grip and storage.
A parasol, however, (in Latin para for “shelter or shield” and sol “sun”) is typically constructed from more delicate fabrics such as lace, cotton, silk, linen, canvas and plastic. Unlike umbrellas, the parasol is primarily used for protection from exposure to the sun. Additionally, it is expected that a parasol will contain ornate designs. Finally, a straight shaft and handle are standard characteristics of parasol formation.
In addition to the difference in definition and purpose, their symbolism varies between cultures and time periods. They can represent protection, prosperity, royalty, power, shelter, prestige, femininity and fashion within cultures around the world. These attributes are represented in art, sculpture, figurines, religion, literature and practise. Umbrella and parasol production is a skill in itself. Today, they continue to be handmade within some cultures.
What does an umbrella or parasol represent for you?