History of Umbrellas
When I was studying at the Sorbonne I passed every morning in front of a singular store on rue Saint-Michel: an umbrella store. “Simon Umbrellas”.
As a student who was often broke, I found it extraordinary that there was a store specializing in umbrellas. I imagined that the umbrellas would cost a fortune, think, buy an umbrella in an umbrella store!
Unconsciously, that must have tickled my curiosity enough for me to decide one day to enter. A few years later, when I had been working for a few months in Geneva, passing through Paris and without an umbrella, I made a hook. I did not know what to expect. Above all, I dared not imagine that there were affordable umbrellas here for the young teacher I had become.
I ran into a passionate seller of umbrellas. Umbrellas were his life. No kidding.
– Don’t worry, Miss, we have them for all the prices, you see the cheapest here, in the 20 euros, and after, we have the Rolls of umbrellas there. What are you looking for exactly?
– An umbrella … er, practical, pretty … not too expensive …
– Okay. Where do you live ?
– I work in Geneva.
– Geneva ? Hmm. There is a lot of wind there, isn’t it?
– I do not know. Finally, if, when there is a kiss …
– Exact. So, I recommend this one: foldable, light, and, above all, with double steel ribs. Look. Very resistant.
Maddened by the “double steel whalebone”, I eyed the price tag. 25 euros. Phew!
– Okay… and these?
I showed a basket of rustling umbrellas, very pretty, near the cash desk. The seller was watching a passerby taped to the window. He turned around.
– No. These are single whalebone umbrellas, it won’t hold. I know something about it, I’m the one who will have to repair it if it breaks!
Conquered by this argument, I choose the one with double steel ribs.
– You know, when I was a student, I dreamed of one day entering your store, I slipped when paying.
– Ah, ah, that I suspect, and you are not the first, replied the specialist in umbrellas. It’s like this gentleman, earlier, who was looking at the window. One day he will enter my store. I know it. It’s often like that. People pass by, and then one day, they finally dare to enter.
It was in 2009.
I still have my steel double whale umbrella. It resists again and again to rain and wind!
Umbrella Buying Guide
What is an umbrella?
Its etymology speaks for itself: the umbrella is used to ward off the rain. However, between glitch, pebroque and riflard, the object was not spared by French slang. And to afford this “little corner of an umbrella against a corner of paradise” dear to Brassens, nothing could be simpler: a straight structure, a few whales, a well-stretched canvas and voila. It now remains to choose well from the mass of items available.
Retractable or rigid?
Retractable, it is on average cheaper, smaller but also more fragile. Beware of the inverted umbrella, synonymous with tousled hair or dripping mascara. To limit the risks, opt for an automatic retractable model rather than a manual one, it is on average more solid as our test carried out in 2014 showed . His best asset? It fits in a handbag or in the pocket of a coat. Like Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, it deploys quickly to ward off the most unexpected whims of Mother Nature.
The rigid versions are generally more robust. In our 2017 test , four of the nineteen models supported force 8 winds on the Beaufort scale. Not to mention that little “British” side that will appeal to fans of London fashion. Anecdote: it was not among the English that the umbrella made its appearance. In Europe, it was the Italians and then the French who adopted it first. Across the Channel, the object was considered dangerous or even “ridiculous”, regardless of popular belief.
How many whales?
Eight whales is enough. But the more there are, the more solid the structure is generally. They are generally made of steel or fiberglass. A good umbrella should have no fewer than eight. And if you open your favorite model to check – out of your house for the most superstitious – you will realize that this is also the standard figure. Below, it will tend to turn around at the slightest gust. For the record, they are called “whales” because, in the past, they were made with the baleen of the cetacean, just like the corsets of these ladies. Preservation of the species requires, this practice is no longer current.
A ball, a cane, a simple cord at the end of the handle … each umbrella has its handle and each handle its hand. The important thing is to have a comfortable grip. In strong winds, it is better to be able to hold your glitch well, at the risk of seeing it fly away. In wood, metal, animal or unusual form, there is something for everyone.
A large scale certainly offers better protection. But for city walks, better stay modest! On an overcrowded sidewalk, an XL umbrella may attract the wrath of passers-by struck by your whales. For urban and daily use, put aside the 150 cm of the golf model and provide a smaller size (100 cm to 120 cm).
How to maintain it?
⇨ Drying: The ideal is not to close an umbrella that is still wet. In practice, this is not always easy, unless you have room. Tip if this is not the case: fold it up without attaching the strap and hang it above the bathtub until the fabric dries. In our 2017 test , seven models scored “very good” in terms of drying time.
⇨ The opening: Despite the reflex which pushes us to open our umbrella directly above our head during a downpour, it is better to do it against the ground. With the tip down, it is less likely to turn around with the wind. And this gesture has the advantage of exerting less tension on the whaling system.
⇨ Beware of rays: The umbrella is an atypical object: it likes rain, not the sun. With too much exposure, the rays may attenuate the color of the canvas, but also affect its impermeability. The harmful effects of the sun being accentuated through a window, it is better to avoid letting your glitch tan on the back seat of the car.
⇨ Cleaning: First step to remove small stains: pass a sponge soaked in water on the canvas. If this is not enough, add five drops of ammonia or a little detergent in a liter of water. Little tip to keep an umbrella waterproof: dissolve alum stone in a little water. During our test carried out in 2017 , the two transparent models obtained the maximum score in terms of tightness.