Parasols certainly peaked in popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries, but evidence of their existence dates back to over 3,000 years ago. While the purpose of a parasol is to shield oneself from sunlight, historically, the object was used as an undulating demonstration of class. In 11th century B.C. China, the rank of army officers could be denoted by the type of parasol carried over their head: double-, triple-, or quadruple-decked sunshade; quadruple being the best, duh! Mode of transportation and parasol usage were relational in terms of social status. By the early 17th century in Italy, parasols were seen as a lower-class accessory because only those who did not have a carriage would travel on foot, necessitating a shield from the sun.
Parasols made their way to America in the late 18th century and were mostly considered an en vogue accessory, rather than a means of protection against the sun. In other parts of the world, parasols were used by both men and women, yet in America they were thought of as supremely feminine in an almost derogatory way, proving we, as a country, like to stay fucked up about gender stuff for centuries, yay!
Hopefully, you are well aware of how dangerous it is to expose yourself to the sun without any protection, but in case you need a refresher: the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer, cataracts, and compromise your immune system. Does that tan still sound glamorous? I hope not.
As a child, my father would come home from the dermatologist’s office and show my brothers and I brochures with way-too-close-up-for-an-eight-year-old photos of skin cancer and just yell SUNSCREEN! like the gym teacher from Beavis and Butthead (or at least that’s how I remember it), so I have always worn sunscreen. My mother would always tell me to wear a hat, even as an adult, when going for a run or to the beach, and I never listened to her. I just always thought hats were dorky and I’m not the kind of girl who looks cute in a baseball hat, so I would slather on sunscreen sans hat and go do my thing. I wish I would have listened to my mother because a couple of years ago I developed melasma on my forehead. Melasma is sun damage that appears as blotchy brown spots or patches on one’s face. Physical exfoliation can help melasma start to fade, but the only true treatment is a chemical exfoliant, such as glycolic acid peels over a period of time. Along with skin cancer and melasma, harmful sun exposure also causes wrinkles. So, if you aren’t motivated by health, please let vanity take over and cover up while in the sun!
Upon walking outside, I shield my face from the sun with my hands, which isn’t terribly convenient when also holding several objects (water bottle, dog leash, clipboard, lunch bag, purse, etc.), so I started joking with friends that I need a parasol. But, the more I joked about it the better of an idea it seemed. Now, I am fully on TEAM PARASOL and have been shopping online for the perfect parasol, but haven’t found one yet. My pull to purchase a parasol is strictly for function, but parasols can be terribly chic, which makes the online window shopping more fun. This black faux leather option by Jean-Paul Gaultier is pretty baller, but out of my price range.
While ridiculous, I love the idea of a hands-free parasol option, mainly for walking my dog because I need both hands for that.
Centuries past, it was customary to have someone else hold a parasol over your head, such as a slave. The key to modern day parasol use is clearly making it anti-snobby, so always hold your own parasol. Unlike Michael Jackson, yeesh!
This is my call to all of you in helping influence the current zeitgeist: Let’s make parasols a thing again!
Oh, and just for fun, there is a very beautiful song called Parasol by The Sea and Cake, a band I discovered in college.