A parasol is a tool that protects the user from sunlight. This device has a long history, having been used thousands of years ago in countries that are extremely hot. Technically, a parasol can be referred to as an “umbrella”, but the connotation is that it offers protection from sunlight, whereas an umbrella can shield someone from rain. Both of these tools are designed following similar principles – there is a long shaft in the center that connects to supporting spokes, which are attached to a series of materials that can fold up for easy portability.
Use in History
The word parasol is derived from Latin, with para meaning shield or shelter, and sol meaning the sun. Based on archaeological evidence, it is believed that parasols have been in use for thousands of years in areas ranging from China to Ancient Egypt, and that the rudimentary form of a parasol may have been created simultaneously in many areas. Parasols appear in writings and paintings in locations like Rome, Ancient Greece, China, the Middle East, North Africa, and Mesoamerica. In more than one culture, the parasol was viewed as a status symbol, and a servant had to carry it for a high ranking member of society.
Cultures differ on this, but parasols tended to be used by women; men who used parasols were thought to be strange, effeminate, and suspect. In Rome and Ancient Greece, women were the only people who used parasols, and this tradition was passed on to various European cultures like Victorian England, where upper class women shielded themselves from the sun to keep their skin light and fair so as not to resemble the field laborers, who were tanned from constant exposure to the sun.
Construction of a Parasol
A parasol can be constructed from various materials, including silk, paper, linen, cotton, plastic, and canvas. The materials used in the construction is dictated by culture, function, and the intended appearance. For instance, hand painted paper and silk are generally associated with Asian parasols, which are fragile and will surely be damaged by heavy wind or damp conditions. Sturdier parasols tend to include canvas and plastic, and can resist moisture better.
Survived to this day in a number of modern incarnations, the parasol was traditionally hand held. However, now many parasols are designed to be placed on tables or planted firmly in the sand, which can offer hands free shade to many people so that they can enjoy drink and food. A more complex parasol might be better classified as a shade structure or awning, especially as its appearance resembles more like a tent. However, as long as it still features a collapsible design, it is still technically correct to refer to the structure as a parasol. The availability of various sizes, materials, and designs means that parasols can be purchased seasonally at differing costs.