Parasols, often confused with umbrellas, are a natural solution for keeping off the heat in hot and sunny climates. The word parasol is formed of the Italian root words parere (to ward off) and sole (sun). The concept of this device is in direct contrast to that of umbrellas which are designed to provide protection from rain. It is not possible to pinpoint the day on which the parasol was invented, nor is it possible to say with any certainty that it was invented by the Greek, the Chinese or the Egyptians. |
The Greeks have been using parasols for more than 3000 years, and the Egyptian haven been using them for almost as long. The Romans started their love affair with this accessory in the 3rd Century B.C., while the Asian countries have been using it as a part of their ritual ceremonies since times immemorial. The fashionable Italians were the first Europeans to make this item a part of their daily life.
While this accessory provides shade to the users, it has mostly been used for rituals, or has been used as a fashion accessory. Noblemen and powerful personages had people trailing after them, carrying this accessory. Even the people who carried it for their masters were respected; such was the symbolic value of parasols. Several Eastern cultures used it during wedding ceremonies and other festivals.
In its earliest form, this sunny-weather cousin of the umbrella was pretty small in size. However, during the 16th and 17th centuries, it grew in size. This is when the garden or patio parasols came into fashion. These large canopies were supported by poles, and some were large enough to provide shade to two or more people. Also, it became fashionable for women in England and France to carry giant parasols at all times of the day.
Many Englishmen simply called this contraption 'a shadow'. There is a solid reason for giving it such a name. As a parasol was made from paper, silk or other translucent materials, it didn't blot out the sun completely but simply lessened the force of the sun rays, casting a shadow on the user. It is estimated that the earliest parasols must have been made from large leaves and bamboo poles. Today, all sorts of modern materials and technologies are used to create different types of sunshades. Of all parasols, silk ones are considered to be the most fashionable and beautiful.
If you look at the European painting of a certain period, you will notice almost all the upper class women are depicted as beautiful women holding sunshades or playing with parasols. The translucent textures, vibrant colors and intricate patterns on the parasols match the clothes of the subjects, and they also match with the surroundings. A series of paintings by Francisco Goya, titled El Quitasol, use the image of parasols to convey a feeling of happiness and cheerfulness.
Today, the symbolic value of sunshades has taken a back seat, while their aesthetic value has attracted attention. People all over the world use parasols as fashion accessories, and the fact that they provide protection from the sun doesn't hurt either. Large leaves have been replaced by silk, and the fashion of intricate designs has declined, paving the way for plain parasols. Old women continue to use parasols for protection, while younger women use them as fashion accessories.
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