Today’s standard umbrella is the same as it was hundreds of years ago. However, one significant alteration was made to its classic design in the 17th century: the introduction of the curved handle.
Umbrellas have hooked handles because, in the 1600s, their shape made it easier than straight handles for servants to hold at an appropriate angle over their employer’s heads. The curved handle is most commonly used to carry the umbrella on one’s arm or hang the umbrella up to dry.
Today, umbrellas are so commonplace and practical that it’s hard to believe the social implications were dire enough to make one of the only ever changes to its construction. The umbrella has a shockingly exciting history in terms of status and class.
Keep reading to learn more about why they gained curved handles, the historical symbolism behind umbrellas, and how you may be holding your umbrella incorrectly.
Easier for Servants to Hold
The umbrella’s design didn’t start with the iconic J-shaped hook we associate with the accessory.
Initially, the umbrella’s handle started straight like the ones we typically see on smaller, travel-sized versions. So, why was it ever changed if we still use the original straight-handled model?
Around the 1600s, the umbrella’s famous hooked handle gained popularity as it made it easier for servants to hold.
To fully protect their employer from the natural elements, the best way was to hold the umbrella at an angle. With straight handles, this feat was much harder to perform successfully. Thus, the curved handle was born.
As umbrellas became a tool for everyone, not just the upper-class members who could afford servants, the handle’s design stuck.
If you’d like to experience the luxury of your umbrella being held for you, it’s common for door attendants or valets to use the handle’s original purpose.
These days, most people find the best use of the J-shaped hook to carry the umbrella on one’s arm or as a means to hang it somewhere so that the rain can dry off the canopy.
The Historical Social Significance of Umbrellas
Umbrellas have been positively associated with royalty for years and years. Initially, they were luxury items, so the umbrella was an innate indicator of social and economic status. As an accessory, only a few people had umbrellas.
Given the weighty significance of the umbrella itself, it makes sense why its handle evolved the way it did. Since umbrellas indicated affluence, those who possessed them didn’t hold them themselves but always relied on servants to do so for them.
Around the 1800s, the umbrella’s design, materials, and production improved, making them cheaper, more functional, and more accessible. Soon enough, umbrellas were not just for the elite members of society, but all.
As the sales of weapons increased in the 1900s (umbrellas were previously used for self-defense), umbrellas’ sales and luxury decreased. Instead of purchasing umbrellas for style-related purposes, it began to gain traction for the innovative tool we know today.
Umbrella Holding Etiquette
In the middle of a downpour, the last thing you want is to be hit in the face by others who don’t know how to hold their umbrellas properly. The tips at the ends of the metal ribs are pokey appendages, so it’s best to know how to gracefully carry your umbrella to prevent causing any harm or annoyance. Here are some ways to practice umbrella etiquette:
Raise your umbrella for shorter people to pass under. Follow this rule of thumb to ease pedestrian traffic flow and safety when walking on the sidewalk. This ensures room for both of you and that no one gets poked. If the person approaching is similar in height, the person holding the larger umbrella should lift theirs.
Ensure your umbrella is at least a foot away from your face. This tip allows you to see everything around you in a 10-foot radius for optimal surveillance. Keeping an eye on your surroundings can help prevent accidents.
Provide your companion with some rain protection. If you’re walking with anyone in the rain – be it a friend, loved one, or colleague – it’s customary to provide them with a bit of shelter from the weather. Your umbrella may not fit the two of you fully underneath, but offering a little protection is the right thing to do.
Hold your collapsed umbrella vertically. Umbrellas contain many rigid edges and, believe it or not, have been historically used as weapons. Be mindful of this when carrying a folded umbrella and stop yourself from tucking it horizontally under your arm.
Finally, the next time you are holding an umbrella for someone, notice how the hooked handle makes it far easier.
Other Types of Handles
Overall, the umbrella’s design has remained fairly true to its roots as time passes. Slight changes have been made to accompany comfort and convenience. Let’s explore some variations of the classic J-hooked handle.
If you’re someone who always has their hands full with a cellphone, coffee, shopping bags, you name it. Then a C-shaped umbrella handle might be the best solution for you – short of growing another hand, of course. This design allows you to use your umbrella hands-free by sliding on to your wrist like a bracelet.
Models like this highly rated Double Layer Inverted Umbrella on Amazon not only possess this convenient C-shaped handle but are also designed to keep you dry when you’re done with it. Instead of collapsing it conventionally and having residual water spray all over you, it folds up inversely. After using an umbrella to keep you dry, you shouldn’t have to risk getting wet as you collapse it.
Automatic and Ergonomic
If you’re someone whose hands slip all over their umbrella handle when it gets wet, an ergonomic anti-slip handle is an absolute must for you. This highly rated Automatic Open Travel Umbrella on Amazon will provide you with a superior grip and an easy-to-use automatic open and close button for your most consumer-friendly experience.
Instead of having to hold your umbrella at all, why not wear it? The Primo Supply Wearable Umbrella on Amazon is ideal for people who cycle, run, fish, or want a completely hands-free alternative. This umbrella is worn like a backpack to ensure full coverage at all times.
While not often thought of as old-fashioned, the straight handle is the original design of the umbrella. These days, it’s back again and typically found on compact, travel-friendly umbrellas. RUMBRELLA’s Mini Umbrella on Amazon collapses down to the equivalent size and weight of the iPhone 11 Pro Max. If you live in a rainy climate, these are great to throw in your purse or backpack. You never know when you’ll need it!