You may have seen the image above in my blog about pelisses, a few weeks ago. I’m repeating the picture here because of that parasol. Or is it an umbrella? It rather looks like one. In fact, apart from that tassel, the proportions look very modern.
Parasols : for the sun, not the rain
Parasols, especially early in the Regency period, had different proportions, as you can see from the examples below, all courtesy of the Hereford Museum costume collection.
On the left is a pale pink silk parasol, very small, with a long handle, a neat metal ferrule and a tassel. On the right is a pale pink lace parasol, again with a long handle. If you look closely — click on any of the images to enlarge them — you’ll see that the long ivory handle of the lace one is carved. Its ferrule has a ring rather than a tassel.
Do you begin to see a theme here?
There’s another one — also pale pink, but with a fringe this time — below.
The image on the left shows the pink fringed cover and the elaborate tassel hanging from the ferrule. The image on the right shows its beautiful green silk lining and the carving that twines round the long ivory handle. This parasol is exquisite. Even if it is [mostly] pale pink.
Did parasols have to be pink?
No. The colour might have been popular because it flattered a lady’s complexion, perhaps?
In fact, the Hereford Museum has other colours, too. To prove it, here’s a stunning bright blue one. Amazing that the colour doesn’t seem to have faded over the two centuries since it was used.
The long elegant handle is ivory; and sculpted rather than carved. The ivory ferrule has a ring instead of a tassel.
Carrying a parasol — upside-down?
We know how a lady carried her parasol when it was open. But when it was closed? Nowadays, we always carry our umbrellas with the ferrule down. Modern umbrellas often have curved handles to make them easier to carry that way.
None of the images above shows a curved handle. And what were the rings and tassels for? Wouldn’t they dangle in the dirt when the parasol was carried unopened?
Look closely at the fashion plate on the right, dating from 1808 and shown courtesy of the V&A Museum.
Two of the ladies are carrying coloured parasols. Both are carrying them upside-down — or so it seems to a modern eye.
The lady on the far left has a parasol with a very short handle. The ring in the ferrule is looped elegantly over her little finger. The lady in the middle has a parasol with a much longer handle, and she seems to be using it rather like a walking stick.
So the tassels wouldn’t have dangled in the dirt. They’d have dangled from delicately-gloved fingers instead. And the ring was for one of those slim fingers.
There are quite a lot of examples, from prints, of parasols being carried in this way. i’ve shown another one below, from 1814.
And that parasol is definitely being used as a walking stick.
So upside-down parasols were the rule?
That would be much too easy. And to prove it, here are two more fashion prints, from 1817, with parasols carried in what looks, to modern eyes, to be the conventional way.
The one on the left seems to have a curved handle, so it could have been awkward to use the other way up.
The one on the right has a very long ferrule. Seems to have been designed to be held that way up, don’t you think?
So the image at the top of this post isn’t wrong.
At least, not in the way she’s holding her parasol.
Costume is endlessly fascinating, and just seems to raise more and more questions. So I’ll be trying to provide more answers. Soon.
Late PS: Louise Allen looked at the up-or-down issue years ago on her blog about the great parasol mystery. Sadly I missed it. But you probably shouldn’t because Louise’s prints are gorgeous. Also, in her reply here (below), Louise says that, after her parasol mystery blog: “an expert got in touch to say it was because the safe catch that holds it closed wasn’t developed until about 1817 – you had to hold it ‘upside down’ or it just fell open”
Thank you, Louise. Mystery solved 😉 And a totally practical solution, too.