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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Purtyfulness, and a Brief History of the Parasol

When I was a little kid, I had the most fantastic red, green, blue, and yellow umbrella. I carried that thing around rain or shine, and pretended on a routine basis that it was a parasol. Last month, I bought my first real parasol, and decided to research their history. During the 18th century, parasols were useful for preventing sunburns or tans. Contrary to the orange fake-bakers of today, pale skin was considered very fashionable and beautiful!

Parasol frames were commonly made of wood or whalebone. Overall, the covers were rather simple, without ruffles, lace, or fringe, as seen in the 19th century.

The most common colour for 18th c. parasols was green, as seen in the above image and the 1777 Francisco de Goya painting below. Most 18th c parasols had a height of around 80 cm. The early-mid 1700s parasol pictured above can be seen here at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and is 82.3 cm tall.
Parasols for the Historical Costumer

Believe me when I say that there is a small amount of information available about parasols, and I don't know of any books on them. When seeking a parasol to complete your polonaise, your best bet is to buy vintage, but be warned-- many times, parasols can be pricey. The black and white striped parasol I bought yesterday cost me $40 after I'd haggled it down, and the condition is not perfect- the cover is faded to an almost greyish brown stripe and there are a few small holes. However, the frame and spokes (aluminum and wood) are in very good condition, which seems to be the main thing when buying. On the other hand, I bought a vintage 50's blue silk Asian style parasol for $7 and feel like I got a decent deal. So it all depends on where you look and what you find.

Essentially, as with any accessory you buy/make to complete your historical outfits, do your research! Some more resources on 18th c. parasols can be found here, here, and here! If anyone has anything to add, please let me know in the comments!


  1. Cool! Any ideas why green was the favoured colour for parasols? I wonder if it has anything to do with the colour of the light that passes through it?

  2. I read that it may have been because it made your face look paler-- maybe the light, when filtered through green, reduces pink or red?

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