Parasols originated in ancient Assyria. They began as fashioned palm branches and reeds held over the heads of Kings and other royalty. Pale skin from avoiding the sun through use of a parasol became associated with wealth and social status.

Parasols were first used by women exclusively in ancient Greece, but the technology for umbrellas came from more tropical climates. As evidenced in literature, the fictional traveler Robinson Crusoe makes an umbrella out of skins with the fur upwards like the ones he had seen in Brazil. He describes it as being useful to keep off both the sun and the rain.

In the 1600s, around the same time of European exploration into the New World, parasols became popular in England and France. Later parasols of the Victorian era were made of wood or whale baleen and oiled silk.

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At the Valentine, we have a large collection of Victorian parasols. During the Victorian era (c.1837-c.1900) parasols were an essential fashion accessory, just like gloves and hats; a respectable woman did not leave home without one!






Bethany Gingrich, Museum Technician
The Valentine