The exquisite creamy complexion of the Regency maid, though a far cry from the powdered beauties of the previous century, required much care, if one wished to avoid a sunburn or freckles. One need only recall the Bingley sisters’ disdain at Elizabeth Bennet’s “brown” complexion, gained from her summer travels to acknowledge that the bonnet and parasol were essential to outdoor activities. Made of anything from lace to cotton and silk, they could also be effective against light rain.
“Charlotte was to go [to Sanditon]. . . & to buy new Parasols, new Gloves, & new Brooches, for her sisters & herself at the Library. . .”
Sanditon; Chapter 2
The word “parasol” (Spanish or French) is a combination of para, meaning to stop or to shield, and sol, meaning sun. “Parapluie” (French) similarly consists of para combined with pluie, which means rain (which in turn derives from pluvia, the Latin word for rain). Hence, a parasol shields from sunlight while a parapluie shields from rain. (Parachute means shield from falls.)
That the use of the umbrella or parasol—though not unknown—was not very common during the earlier half of the eighteenth century, is evident from the fact that General (then Lieut.-Colonel) James Wolfe, writing from Paris in 1752, speaks of the people there using umbrellas for the sun and rain, and wonders that a similar practice does not obtain in England. Just about the same time they seem to have come into general use, and that pretty rapidly, as people found their value, and got over the shyness natural to a first introduction. Jonas Hanway, the founder of the Magdalen Hospital, has the credit of being the first man who ventured to dare public reproach and ridicule by carrying one habitually in London. As he died in 1786, and he is said to have carried an umbrella for thirty years, the date of its first use by him may be set down at about 1750. John Macdonaldrelates that in 1770, he used to be greeted with the shout, “Frenchman, Frenchman! why don’t you call a coach?” whenever he went out with his umbrella. By 1788 however they seem to have been accepted: a London newspaper advertises the sale of ‘improved and pocket Umbrellas, on steel frames, with every other kind of common Umbrella.’
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