What Were Umbrellas Made From Before Nylon?

If you are anything like most people, you are likely not a fan of getting caught up in the rain and having your entire outfit soaked. Umbrellas are a great way of preventing this from occurring due to their waterproof nylon fabrication. History can attest to the fact that umbrellas have been around for a very long time, but what were they made from before nylon?

Umbrellas were made from silk, cotton, and alpaca fleece before nylon. During the 19th century, when umbrellas became popular amongst all ranks of society, this is what they were constructed from. Nylon would later become the main umbrella material, but it was not invented until the 1930s.

In this article, we are going to take a look at the history and evolution of umbrellas over different eras and what exactly they were made from before the popularization of nylon. We will then discuss the design principles of the modern umbrella, which most are familiar with. Lastly, we will provide readers with a convenient alternative to the umbrella, which some might find preferable. 

women holding a traditional umbrella
Sasin Tipchai@123rf.com

The History of Umbrellas

In order to uncover what umbrellas were made from before nylon, it is necessary to go over a brief history of the umbrella in an attempt to uncover the origins of this ancient accessory. 

The use of umbrellas has been recorded all throughout ancient history, in many different forms, and in many different regions of the world, the earliest of which can be traced back to Egypt circa 2450 BC. 

These ancient Egyptian umbrellas were usually constructed from raw materials such as leaves, feathers—and were highly decorative, signifying class, and status. Pharaohs would typically employ servants to hold these makeshift umbrellas above them like a canopy while they basked in luxury. 

Egyptian umbrellas would have also acted as a means of protection from the sun’s intense UV rays, which were no doubt present at the time.

Ancient umbrellas can be found in similar forms in other places such as Greece, India, China, and the Middle East, from 2000 BC onwards.

Umbrellas would later fall out of popularity, throughout the dark ages and into the renaissance era and would not resurface again for some time.

The origins of the first umbrellas used specifically for rain coverage are obscure, but it is commonly believed that they likely began in Europe sometime during the 17th century.

Read more about the 4000 year history of umbrellas here.

Cotton, Alpaca Fleece, and Silk

Now that we are familiar with the origins of umbrellas, we will be able to contextualize the modern umbrella better, or rather, what came just before it.

The material nylon—which is today used in the creation of the overwhelming majority of umbrellas—was not invented until 1935, so what were people using before this?

During the 1800s, rain umbrellas were made from a range of various materials, which included cotton, alpaca fleece, and silk. Not only that, but the bodies and handles of these 19th-century umbrellas were made from wood and whale bones, as opposed to the aluminum and plastic constructs that are most commonly used today.

This was also around the time when umbrellas ceased to be associated with a rich, noble class and simply became an accessory for everyday citizens who wished not to get wet. 

Modern Umbrellas

Since the days of the past, umbrellas have undergone a lot of changes to their design structure, as well as made great improvements in their functional capability.

Contemporary umbrellas are almost exclusively made from nylon material, although some are plastic. The handles are either plastic or rubber. The poles are made from aluminum to ensure that the umbrellas are lightweight and will not induce excessive fatigue from prolonged usage.

Moreover, modern umbrellas are foldable, they are designed to retract, and compaction is one of their primary selling features.

Some modern umbrellas also include built-in flashlights fashioned to the handle for walking in the dark and may also feature clips and rings to allow them to be easily attached to a jacket.

Contrary to the olden days, umbrellas are now relatively affordable, sleekly designed, and easy to come by. This makes them equally attainable by anyone, regardless of status.

Different Types of Umbrellas

As we learned in the history of umbrellas section of this article, the first umbrellas were not used to protect from the rain, but rather from the sun. Different types of umbrellas exist and for different reasons. Here we will briefly go over a few of the most common types of umbrellas, besides those related to rain.

  • Beach umbrellas – As the name implies, beach umbrellas are umbrellas intended to be used at the beach to block the sun while the user lays out and relaxes. These are typically striped, colorful, and can often accommodate 2-3 people at one time.
  • Traditional oil paper umbrellas – Popularized in Chinese and Japanese fashion, oil-paper umbrellas are used for ceremonies such as parties and weddings. These are extremely beautiful and decorative and are usually accompanied by an entire wardrobe or costume, as in the case with the Geisha girl’s uniform. 

Where to Buy Umbrellas

If you need an umbrella and do not already own or possess one, it would be a great idea to consider investing in one—especially if you live in a region prone to rain and gloomy weather.

For a stylish and quality umbrella that will keep you dry without breaking the bank, consider trying out this classic hook style umbrella from Soulrain, Auto Open Wooden Handle, on Amazon. This umbrella comes fitted with a J-shaped wood handle, is available in multiple colors, and is windproof.

Umbrella Safety

Never use an umbrella during a storm in which lightning or thunder is present. Doing so will increase your chance of becoming struck by lightning, which can kill or seriously injure you. Never seek shelter under trees, and always avoid downed telephone poles.

Alternatives to Umbrellas

If you don’t like getting wet in the rain, but you are also not thrilled about carrying around an umbrella with you when traveling, there are other means that may satisfy you in both regards.

The number one alternative to an umbrella is a nylon rain jacket. Rain jackets are beneficial in that they are just worn as everyday clothes, yet still boast an incredible ability to keep the user dry on even the worst of days.

Individuals whose job entails working outdoors, whether rain or shine and who may not have the luxury of holding an umbrella while they perform their duties, will benefit greatly from the use of a rain jacket.

This Columbia Watertight Jacketon Amazon is sporty, casual, and will do the job of an umbrella with no trouble. It even comes complete with an attached hood in order to keep your head and hair dry all day. 


In this article, we were interested in uncovering what umbrellas were made from before nylon. We did this by first taking a deep look into the history and origins of umbrellas, which dates back thousands of years. From there, we were able to lineate their evolution into the modern-day and answered this question.

Read more intriguing facts about umbrellas here.

Ultimately, we learned that before nylon, which was not invented until the 1930s, umbrellas were fabricated from silk, cotton, and alpaca fleece, and the handles and poles from whale bones. Today umbrellas have become much more accessible to members of the general public, as well as more practical in their application.

If anything is for sure, it is that the endless evolution of the umbrella from every corner of the earth will confirm the fact that it is universally better to be dry than wet.