Fresh style insights, tips and commentary by Michelle Tea, Michael Braithwaite, Leo Plass, Page McBee and Carrie Leilam Love.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Beat the Heat: A Special Request

Well, it's happened. I've received my first special request regarding how to incorporate a specific item into one's wardrobe. The item in question? The parasol--that bastion of feminine skin tone preserver, enemy of sun spots, freckles and UV rays. I've done my research, I've looked at image after image of runway parasols from 2008 (the last time it arose as a trend), and I have to say, the parasol has me feeling challenged. What's the deal with the parasol, anyway? It's like an umbrella, but more personable. Sort of. I've been racking my brains about why it seems so much more difficult to wear well and I think I've hit on something. The parasol? Is performance.Which means it's a bit harder to just throw into a preexisting look. I mean, I'll wear some weird looking shit, just to give it the old college try, but I don't think I'd attempt a parasol. At least, not unless I was designing my whole look around the fact that I was carrying a parasol. Or maybe I would. Let's take this journey together, shall we?

By saying it's performance, I mean that the parasol has a history of use by the elite (of both the religious and the secular varieties). It's been used to keep the sun off of human skin, tease away the heat and help lessen the toll of humidity since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians, who used it both in a utilitarian fashion and as ceremonial pomp. Priestesses in Greece used them during religious ceremonies, and every manner of royalty from Rome to China has been followed by some poor chump whose sole responsibility is keep his/her highness under its protective disc. God forbid this and that land owner look like their sun-worn farm hands. SCANDALIZED.

Anyway, parasols. For any occasion. It can be done. I think. Nay! I know.

From what I've seen so far, the parasol works well when consciously performing femininity. That girl on the fake-out sand beach of Governors Island in New York looks fairly at home in her slouchy jersey beach wear and her paper parasol. The setting makes sense, and she somehow (I can't quite place how and it might actually be the parasol itself glamoring me in some way) has a contemporary version of an early 20th Century look going. In fact, if you're not royalty, a wealthy land owner from any given continent in antiquity, an ancient priestess, or the old Asian ladies at my bus stop, the parasol really looks great with Jazz Era-inspired outfits.

Wow. That seems exhausting.
The Jazz Age is a really intense look to pull off.

Fellow Ironing Board Collective blogger, Carrie Leilam Love pulled off a fetching parasol at a semi-recent garden brunch:

Hey! Here's a different Carrie looking thoroughly worn out despite the protection of her very own parasol:

She's probably drained after trying to make sense of the bizarrely xenophobic plot of her last movie.

Here are a few viable options for parasols that would go with jeans and a more casual look, since we can't all be little miss wave curl all the time. Bella Umbrella has a section of their website that allows you to customize any of their signature designs, which seems like a reasonable and enjoyable approach to parasol exploration.

Nevermind the sickly backdrop...
Fun green stripes, courtesy of Bella Umbrella!

  Fun black and white stripes from Bella Umbrella!

Square paper parasol (I particularly love this one)

If you want to go totally outside the realm of typical parasol looks, then there is also this amazing option:

That's right. That's an inflatable cloud parasol (it supposedly also functions as an umbrella, but I doubt it)!

In general, it seems that if you want a truly contemporary take on this age-old accoutrement, you should look to Japan. There you can find designers working with this trope in new and interesting ways (like the above cloud parasol). DiCesare Designs is doing some really inventive stuff that magically manages to combine a bonnet (which was my FAVORITE head covering when I was two--it was the only thing my mother and I agreed on) and a parasol. They're calling it a "parashell." So I suppose that means a shell was somehow an inspiration as well. Nature's hot.


FYI, once you purchase a parashell you can only ever take a photo while looking coquettishly over your right shoulder.

In summary, I don't know if this at all addresses the reader's request that I look into how to incorporate the parasol. I hope that I've given a few different options and that from these options, the seeds of new ideas within the field of parasol couture have been sewn. It's certainly made ME want to give the parasol a try! They're much better for you than all that muck that goes into sunscreen, but as with all things outfits-related, you have to find what will fit with your overall look and your personality. I might try that parashell (insert batting eyelashes here).



  1. I gotta say--I really like the parashell! It looks need and seems more functional than a plain old parasol!

  2. Oh man - I definitely cannot afford a 515 dollar parashell, but i sooo want one.