The standard umbrella today is essentially the same as it was hundreds of years ago. However, one major alteration was done to its classic design in the 17th century: the introduction of the curved handle. What was so important about this change, and why do umbrellas now have hooked handles?
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. These days, 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 interesting 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 to Hold for Servants
The umbrella’s design didn’t start with the iconic J-shaped hook that we associate with the accessory. Originally, the umbrella’s handle started straight like the ones we typically only see on smaller, travel-sized versions. So, if we still use the original straight-handled model, why was it ever changed?
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 of all people, 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 still make use of 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
Suppose the entire modern handle of the umbrella was designed for servants to hold them easily for their employers. In that case, there’s got to be a rich history on the social significance of umbrellas.
Yes, of course, there is. Umbrellas have been positively associated with royalty for years and years. Originally, 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 as a powerful symbol.
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 never held them themselves but always relied on servants to do so for them. After all, if you were important enough, you have an umbrella; there was a good chance you also had a servant.
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.
At this time, umbrellas were not yet used for practical reasons as they are today. As you walk down the streets of any populated city, the odds of seeing someone donning an umbrella on a clear, cloudless day are slim to none. In those days, however, they were an accessory.
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 it as 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 there is room for both of you and that no one gets swiftly 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. For optimal surveillance of what is around you, this tip allows you to see everything around you in a 10-foot radius. Keeping an eye on your surroundings can help prevent accidents from tripping over a fallen branch to getting hit by a car.
- 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 little 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 a plethora of 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.
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 superior grip and an easy-to-use automatic open and close button for the most consumer-friendly experience you can get.
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!
While the umbrella hasn’t changed all that much since its invention, the hooked handle was not part of its original design. Instead, it was changed from a straight end to a J-curved grip so that servants could better protect their employers from the rain and sun.
To hold an umbrella over someone else’s head and successfully offer them full coverage, a certain angle is needed that is harder to accomplish with the straight handle. The hooked handle was added to the umbrella in the 17th century and has remained part of its classic design since.