Before the handbag industry turned a woman's purse into the ultimate showpiece, other accessories had their moment in the sun. The umbrella, for example, enjoyed an important place in the fashion world during the roaring 1920s, and because of its shape, function, and potential for stylistic embellishment I think it's high time we gave it another spin in the spotlight.
The shape of an umbrella makes it a tempting palate for a designer, and it's surprising to me that so few fashion-forward designers seem to have given it a go. The shape of an umbrella when it is closed is angular and strong. A standard umbrella looks like an umbrella when it is closed, and that narrow triangular shape lends itself to the role of accessory. It is trim and aggressive, and it subtly mimics the triangular shape of a woman's dress.
When the umbrella opens, it provides an open canvas for a designer's creativity. It's a little like the favorite accessories of the animal kingdom. A peacock's tail comes to mind. And one wonders why, since accents and frills that show off color are such a popular component of mating rituals in the wild, the best metaphor for those frills that we have at our fashion disposal remains so under-utilized.
The third shape element of an umbrella that begs for designers' attention is the handle. This is the part of the umbrella that today's umbrella makers use most commonly to show off their sophistication and to underscore the quality of their product. Handles of upscale umbrellas are often works of art, much like cane handles, made of finely shaped wood and embellished with carvings. Why hasn't high fashion seen the potential of this?
An umbrella is also functional, like a handbag, and this is important for an accessory because it provides an excuse for the owner to show it off. Any time it rains, the fashion-forward among us need an umbrella to cover up the fashionable clothes they're already sporting; that provides an opportunity to open a designer umbrella and display whatever artistry the designer has imbued upon it.
And because of its function the umbrella can become part of colder-weather wardrobe choices. An umbrella can be designed to complement other clothing. It can be designed to provide striking contrast. It can be the completion of an outfit. Or it can be coupled with a scarf or shawl to add a splash of color to the darker solid colors people tend to wear when it rains.
And because of their function, umbrellas don't need to go with the rest of an outfit, meaning that an umbrella can be designed in a vacuum, with purely artistic and aesthetic ambitions. Most people wear dark solid colors in the rain, and even for those who wear colorful outfits an umbrella has an excuse not to match because it's protective gear. Consequently, it can literally do whatever it wants.
Unless we live in the middle of a desert, we all own umbrella. For most of us, it was a cheap item we picked up from an end-cap at a department store and tossed in the trunk, quite literally for a rainy day. However, its function and shape makes it ideal for high fashion, and if couture umbrellas hit the market, I'm certain they would quickly become the accessory du jour..