The history of umbrellas: from its origins to the present day

Published : - Categories :

The history of umbrellas: from its origins to the present day

Foldable umbrella, automatic umbrella, mini umbrella, large umbrella, wind resistant, always dry… There is something for everyone now! But what are the origins of this indispensable everyday accessory?

The origins of the umbrella

The umbrella has been around for almost 4000 years… first discovered in the historical Mesopotamia region in Western Asia. In those distant times, the sun was a more threatening enemy than the rain, which is why the mighty parasol emerged to protect against this threat.

These emergent umbrellas were first made of palm leaves, papyrus and peacock feathers and they were exclusively reserved for the upper class in ancient Egypt and the Mesopotamia region. Although, this product was so heavy it often required people to carry it. Parasols were also present in medieval China, where they were made out of bamboo sticks, and covered with leaves and feathers.

From parasols to umbrellas

In French, ‘parapluie’ means umbrella, with ‘para’ meaning protection. Whereas in English, umbrella has the latin stem ‘umbra’ meaning shadow so has a direct link to its predecessor, the parasol.

It was only by the 16th century that the umbrella as we know it became a reality. The decisive moment when oil and wax covers replaced the status quo covers on parasols. It is from this moment that the umbrella became an item to protect against bad weather and rain. From this point on, the parasol and the umbrella have separate destinies.

In the 17th century, the umbrella became a hit in Western countries, especially in stylish Italy, France and Britain. At first, it was only considered a feminine accessory to protect women from the rain, but English men progressively adopted it through the 18th century with Jonas Hanway leading the way for the era of umbrellas for men.

Umbrellas as new fashion accessories

Umbrellas became more and more popular with the European higher-class society in the 18th century, it even became a fashion accessory during the period of the French revolution. Craftsmen focused their work on the handles, to make works of art through refining and sculpting canes from prestigious materials like ebony.

These materials were often pricey, so in the 19th century umbrellas became attention grabbing pieces. So many inventions came about to avoid theft of these treasures; integrated padlocks, sirens/alarms, even hidden weapons. The umbrella also became multifunctional in response to growing demands for personalisation, equipped with lights, watches, perfume storage and even smoking accessories and an array of other unexpected objects, (blog post about these coming soon!).

The first European umbrellas had a whalebone structure, and even though the materials used have evolved immensely, this same basic structure remains important. The whale bone structure was replaced by wood, steel, then aluminium and now fiberglass. The oil cloth canvas has also been replaced by more and more resistant types of nylon.

The modern day umbrella

The telescopic (foldable) umbrella was only born in the 20th century, thanks to Hans Haupt in 1928. However, Jean Marius invented a compact, foldable umbrella in France in 1701, but it was not telescopic. It was only by 1969 that Bradford Philips obtained the first patent for his foldable umbrella invention. But the story doesn’t end there, materials continue to evolve for more resistance and comfort… which gives way to the development of new models: transparent umbrella, pocket-sized umbrella, inverted umbrellas, walking-stick umbrellas…the list goes on, as the umbrella has become both a practical object and an indispensable fashion accessory.

Beau Nuage umbrellas

At Beau Nuage, our umbrellas are equipped with the latest technology. The Teflon coating allows rain drops to slide down the cover with no impact. And how could we forget the patented absorbent covers which accompany our umbrellas to always keep them dry in your bag! You can find an incredible choice of umbrellas and covers available on our website.

May the rain be with you!


Share this content

Add a comment

 (with http://)

Beau Nuage eco-friendly umbrella


Beau Nuage  patented absorbent cover


Beau Nuage innovative foldable umbrella with patented absorbent cover




  • The Beau Nuage absorbent cover absorbs the raindrops and hold them with a patented three-layers technology. The inner "absorption" layer is composed of a microfiber fabric able to retain up to 200 times its weight in water.  There is an intermediate layer under the inner one. This layer is made of a water repellent fabric and has a dual function : not only does it enable the outer layer to stay dry by preventing the rain drops from coming through, it also attracts the water towards the microfiber layer in order to ventilate it and dry it effectively. Lastly, the outer layer is a thick umbrella fabric (200threads/in2) with a Teflon® covering which makes it waterproof. It thus prevents raindrops from leaking. In short, you can put your Beau Nuage umbrella into a bag or a pocket and keep it dry!

  • Yes, the Beau Nuage umbrella is eco-friendly! As of September 2020, we have decided to go the extra mile for the environment by designing all the canvases of our umbrellas and covers from recycled plastic bottles. The rPET® material we use is certified by the international organization Control Union. This assures you that your next Beau Nuage umbrella and its cover will have given a second life to a plastic bottle that would otherwise have polluted a beach or an ocean somewhere in the world. In addition to this step, from the start, we have taken measures to protect the environment. For example, the protection of and access to safe drinking water is crucial for a healthy planet. This is why we are very happy to be partners of the Solidarités International association, which has been fighting for more than 35 years for access to drinking water for all. Since June 2019, we donate to this association for each cloudy product ordered on our site. Each product ordered represents an average of 12 hours of access to drinking water for a household! In addition, we eliminate waste by donating all of our unusable Beau Nuage to the Nice Foundation. There, they are sorted by people in professional reintegration and volunteers. The overly damaged umbrellas are then recycled, to minimize the damage to our planet.

  • Yes it is! A Beau Nuage umbrella is inseperable from its cover and the other way around. Even Le Gentleman has its own absorbent cover that enables you to carry it over the shoulder! If you ever spot a Beau Nuage without its cover, contact us quickly…

  • The Beau Nuage umbrellas are built with innovating materials, both flexible and robust. These materials make our umbrellas more resistant and enjoyable than any others. The shaft is made of aluminium and steel so that it is not too heavy (only steel) nor too fragile (only aluminium). Likewise, the ribs of our umbrellas are made of flexible materials, like fiberglass, but very strong, stainless ones for the junction between the ribs, where we favoured nickel for its strength and aesthetic. Our canopies have 200 threads/in2 and are thicker than average (180 threads/in2) and the ribs and canopies are both handmade. Last but not least, our unique Beau Nuage cover, unique, allows you to know where your umbrella is at all times since you can always keep it in your bag ! In that way, the Beau Nuage umbrellas last much longer than others!

  • As of September 2020, all the canvases of our umbrellas are made out of recycled plastic bottles.  The rPET® material we use is certified by the international organisation Control Union. This assures you that your next Beau Nuage umbrella and its cover will have given a second life to a plastic bottle which would otherwise have polluted a beach or an ocean somewhere in the world. 

  • It depends! Le Mini and L’Original have a manual opening whereas L’Automatique and Le Gentleman have an automatic opening. Better still, the aptly named L'Automatique also has an automatic closing. The automation is a wonderful feature that allows you to open and close your umbrella iwith the most ease. But to be of good quality, like the Beau Nuage Automatique, this technology requires a stiff spring. It is thus primarily suitable for the robust and larger umbrellas, like Le Gentleman. That’s why we’ve favoured excellent quality manual openings for Le Mini and L’Original so that these two umbrellas are compact and easy to carry.

  • As we said previously, the Beau Nuage cover is able to retain up to 200 times its weight in water. Nevertheless, we advise you to thoroughly dry the umbrella before placing it back in its absorbent cover. It is recommended that you turn the cover inside out and leave the umbrella open to facilitate drying.

  • After heavy rain, we advise you to let your Beau Nuage cover and umbrella dry at home, like any other accessory subjected to rain. It will prevent any corrosion of your umbrella. If your absorbent cover is dirty, you can wash it, either by hand or in the washing machine, in delicate mode and at 30°C, without softener. Lastly, if your umbrella is wrinkled, you can iron it to make it look as good as new! To do so, you only need to open it and gently apply the steam for the iron on each parts of the canopy, one by one.

  • The technique for opening your Beau Nuage depends entirely on the model you have purchased! Did you choose l'Original? To open it, all you have to do is slide the mast upwards until it stops, without pressing the button. To close it, press the button then retract the mast by hand by pressing on the top of the umbrella. Have you selected le Mini? To open it, simply slide the mast until it stops. To close it, you just have to do the opposite. For l'Automatique, just press the button to open it. To close it, you must also press the button then retract the mast by hand, pushing on the top of the umbrella. Finally, for our majestic Gentleman, all you have to do is press the button to open it. However, it is closed manually. Store it in its absorbent cover head first so that you can take it out by holding it by the handle. For all models, after use, it is advisable to turn the absorbent cover over and leave the umbrella open to facilitate drying! 

1 product ordered = 12h of access to clean drinking water.
Have your umbrella delivered in under 5 working days
If you have any questions, feel free to visit our rainy help centre