The Gentleman’s Guide to Umbrellas

by Brett on June 12, 2009 · 36 comments

in Accessories, Dress & Grooming

umbrellayeah.jpg

Editors note: This post was a collaboration between AoM and AoM reader David Bastistella who went on the search for a proper umbrella and supplied us with some great info from the hunt.

“It’s a big enough Umbrella, but it’s always me that ends up getting wet.” -Sting

Unfortunately, this was the case for me a few weeks back when I grabbed my trusty collapsible red umbrella for a trek out into the rain.  Of course I was sporting my best raincoat to go with it, but on this day, the rain, and particularly the accompanying wind, would push me over the edge and find me jamming my cheap umbrella into the nearest public waste bin. The remaining walk to my destination with a cold hard rain on my forehead left me with nasty sinus congestion.

I didn’t need the cover at first.  The forecast was only calling for light rain.  The torrential downpour that claimed yet another ninety-nine cent umbrella pushed me to this writing and the journey toward finding a proper gentleman’s umbrella.

Some of the world finest umbrellas, I would learn, are from Great Britain from a company who ensures the royal family keeps their hair intact in even the worst London downpour.  Others from Italy carry the style, design and craftsmanship we have come to know from the artisans of that country. Still others demonstrate that umbrella design has not remained unchanged, and on the horizon are new shapes and new technologies that will keep us, and possibly more importantly, our clothes, clean and dry.

My guide to sorting through this world of umbrellas was Bobi Jurcic.  She runs a store in the lower level of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel called, appropriately, Raindrops. She helped me sort through the numerous umbrella choices.

The History of the Gentleman’s Umbrella

The first incarnation of the umbrella was the parasol, which was designed to shade the user from the sun, rather than to keep rain off the head. The parasol dates back to numerous ancient civilizations, in which it was employed by slaves and servants to shade the heads of kings and other members of the ruling class. Despite this tie to masculine royal power, over the centuries the parasol and the umbrella would come to be associated almost entirely with women, who used these handheld canopies to temper the heat, keep the sun off their delicate skin, and prevent the rain from ruining their clothes.

One man grew tired of gentlemen being expected to trudge through the rain or hail a coach to get out of the downpour. Around 1750, Jonas Hanway began stepping out with an umbrella. While he initially met with ridicule, other gentleman quickly saw the wisdom in carrying such an accessory and adopted it as one of their signature pieces.

hanway2.jpg

Gentlemen of the past often carried an umbrella merely as an accessory, never once unfurling it. But such impracticality does not suit the modern man. Today the umbrella, along with such things as the handkerchief and pocketknife, is an important part of a gentleman’s arsenal. An umbrella can keep you and your duds dry, but even more importantly, it’s there to extend to a lady who is getting summarily drenched. So invest in a well-made brolly. A quality umbrella earns you style points and can last you over ten years.  Keep that in mind when your dollar ninety nine special leaves you blown back and wet.

Umbrella Buying Tips

When looking for a proper gentleman’s umbrella, check several factors before making your purchase.

Canopy

The canopy is obviously a central part of an umbrella. If it’s not watertight and well-made, then the umbrella serves no purpose. Check to be sure the canopy does not sit loosely on the umbrella’s ribs. Open the umbrella and flick the segments with your fingers to test for tautness. Then hold the open umbrella up to the light to look for any obvious defects.

Frame

A quality frame is made to stand up to the wind without collapsing. Aluminum frames are cheap and light, but will often crumple when faced with a strong wind. Look for nickel, brass, fiberglass, or tempered spring steel.

Rivets

Rivets are used where the ribs connect and bend. Hollow rivets that you can see through are subpar. A solid rivet ensures that your umbrella will last through many years of being opened and closed.

Shaft

The shaft is really only an issue on full-sized umbrellas (not the compact, telescoping variety).

It’s important to get the right length of umbrella for your height so it is comfortable to carry and use. High end umbrella stores will have you experiment with a walking stick to find the best length for you. They then saw off a chunk of the shaft of the umbrella you have selected to get it to just the right height.

Also, keep in mind that the shaft comes in various builds:

Solid stick (1 piece): A solid stick umbrella is made just like the name suggests-of one continuous piece of wood. Compared to a metal shaft, the solid stick shaft is heavier and thicker and you won’t be able to furl up the canopy as tightly. But solid sticks are quite sturdy and allow the gentleman to use his umbrella as an occasional walking stick.

Fit-up (2 piece): Fit-ups are made of two pieces of wood and are lighter than the solid stick.

fitup-malacca.jpg

Tube: The shaft of a tube umbrella is typically made of steel and as the name suggests, is hollow. A tube shaft is lighter and allows the umbrella to be wrapped up tighter than the wooden varieties. But it is also more prone to bending than a solid stick.

Types of Umbrellas

There are two basic styles of umbrellas.  Each has their pros and cons. In either style, Bobi recommends basic black for men, but there are colors, fabrics and style choices to suit any taste.  One must of course feel the umbrella and consider it not only for its purpose, but how it will impact your style and possibly even heighten your rainy day.

The Traditional Full-sized Umbrella

The full-sized umbrella can double as a walking stick, get you out of a pinch in a dance number, and act as a weapon against ruffians who accost you in the street. It’s hard to beat a well-crafted manual umbrella with a good solid wooden hook handle, which Bobi tells me is very handy for hanging over your arm or in a closet when not in use.  With its wider horizontal reach and deeper dome, the full-sized umbrella obviously offers great coverage. But perhaps its greatest advantage is how it performs in the wind.  The longer stems that form the spine of the machine prevent it from folding back in high wind.

Checkpoints for a Full Sized umbrella

  • Black with a good wooden handle is the best bet
  • Look for good construction and mechanisms
  • Go for subtle patterns for style
  • Always leave open to dry
  • Price Range from $40-$500

The Automatic Collapsible Umbrella

Collapsible umbrellas may not have the panache of their full-sized brothers, but they’re compact, convenient, and tuck neatly into your briefcase or car for unexpected rain. Before cheapo imports diluted the market, collapsible umbrellas were a status symbol and a regular gift for holidays from Christmas to Communion. Their smaller size goes anywhere, and in the case of well crafted models, open effortlessly with the touch of a button. They’re quite handy, with more mechanics and a spine system that is comprised of multiple pieces.  These umbrellas also can be found in a variety of colors and styles, and you can even find one with the smart wooden handle we all love.

Checkpoints for an Automatic Collapsible Umbrella

  • Look for a good dome
  • Easy open, easy close
  • Firm solid hardware construction
  • Always leave open to dry

High Tech Umbrellas

If technology is your thing, you might want to consider a couple of new, cool designs that have been developed recently.

Senz Umbrella

senz2.jpg

The Senz’s aerodynamic design keeps rain off your back and can withstand 70 mph winds.

Winbrella

The Windbrella’s design allows the wind, but not the rain, to pass through the umbrella.

Wi-Fi Camera Umbrella

pictureumreblla.jpg

Another futuristic option is the new Wi-fi umbrella which has high-tech gizmos integrated into the traditional umbrella design. This umbrella allows you to take pictures with the umbrella, instantly download them to Flickr, and then with a flick of the wrist, see your pictures projected on your umbrella “screen.” It also comes with GPS and a digital compass.

Special Umbrellas

While a traditional, well-made umbrella is the most appropriate choice for a gentleman’s brolly, sometimes it’s also nice to have something with a little flair and sense of fun. Especially something that makes you feel like a spy.

Unbreakable Umbrella for Self-Defense

It’s a fully functional umbrella that’s unbreakable from canopy to handle and can be used for hanging from bridges and going all bartitsu on some scalawag. You can use it for the kind of fancy moves seen in this video, or just for general whacking purposes.

Be sure to watch the whole video; you don’t want to miss the man using the umbrella to go to town on a heavy bag.

Blade Runner LED Umbrella

bladerunner.jpg

Using an umbrella on a dark and stormy night, you may need some light to illuminate your path. They make umbrellas with flashlights in the handle, but these umbrellas with a LED-lit shaft are far cooler. Modeled after the umbrellas in the movie Blade Runner, they also look quite a bit like light sabers.

Umbrella with Built-in Pencil

pencilhandle.jpg

While designed for the man who takes to the race track rain or shine, these umbrellas hardly offer a modicum of practicality (it’s pretty easy to carry a pencil in your pocket). But there’s something neat about having a pencil built into the handle of your umbrella. (Anything+secret compartment=awesome).

Umbrella with Built-in Flask

If you’re a man who’s tired of being without his libations during a rainstorm, then Brigg’s Malacca Flask Umbrella is for you. You screw off the handle and slide out a glass flask filled with your favorite spirits.

Samurai Sword Umbrella

samurai.jpg

If the light saber umbrella doesn’t quite hit your geek sweet spot, perhaps this Samurai umbrella will do the trick. It comes with a sling for your back, so you can draw your umbrella at any time and banish the precipitation with it. And if you commit a shameful act, and must therefore fall upon it, you won’t die.

Sword Umbrella

sword.jpg

This umbrella doesn’t look like a sword-it is a sword. One button releases the umbrella, the other a real sword. Spy-tastic.

Sources:

Bobi Jurcic, Raindrops Umbrella Store

European Umbrellas

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrew Barbour June 12, 2009 at 7:49 am

I live in Seoul, where we spend pretty much the entire month of July avoiding the rain (varying from drizzling to torrential, but never stopping). For a long time I have been trying to find a decent quality umbrella that won’t fall apart after one or two months. It is practically impossible, at least going to most stores.

Heck, I’m willing to spend the money– it’s just that it’s extremely difficult to find someone who actually *sells* a quality umbrella. I’ve had an extravagant fantasy about one from these folks, but it’s still a little rich for my blood right now. The links above are great, and if only I didn’t have to worry about insane import duties on one (Boo Korean Customs!!), I’d order one this second.

For ot

2 P June 12, 2009 at 8:10 am

One should always keep a spare collapsible bumbershoot in his car.

3 The Plainsman June 12, 2009 at 9:18 am

Too much lightning here in Colorado for an umbrella. That, and our rains usually last up to 15 minutes at the most.

4 Titus June 12, 2009 at 10:08 am

Re: sword sticks, these are quite interesting, but bear in mind that they are also illegal in many states.

5 Ryan June 12, 2009 at 10:13 am

Be careful to check with your local municipality if a sword umbrella is legal, some consider it a concealed weapon! Of course planes are out too.

6 Steve C. June 12, 2009 at 10:26 am

Honestly, I’ve always disliked umbrellas. They often don’t protect the user, and despite the size of a full size umbrella, are still not usually good for more than one person. They take up one of your hands. They’re also usually rather flimsy.

The best umbrella is a rain-proof jacket and a good hat (or hood). Waterproof boots are a big plus. I love the feeling of being impervious to the rain and not sweating to death in a (plastic) rain slicker.

7 Gene June 12, 2009 at 10:33 am

Many locations consider a sword cane a concealed weapon and have laws against carrying one.

8 Andrew June 12, 2009 at 10:58 am

Yeah sword umbrellas are probably illegal in a lot of states….but who would ever know you were carrying one?

9 Robert June 12, 2009 at 11:10 am

I’m a fan of the cheaper collapsible umbrellas. They eventually break… but so does anything exposed to elements and carried around all the time. Eventual replacement also keeps things looking fresh as the fabric on even the expensive ones eventually look bad after a while.

1. Keep one in the car at all times. This can be very handy, and a simple place to keep a spare umbrella.

2. Keep one in your backpack/briefcase at all times. By avoiding the “should I carry or not” question, your always prepared. Nothing stinks more than forgetting your umbrella and showing up at an important meeting wet while everyone else has a dry crisp suit on. The small ones are easy to carry without adding much weight.

Bottom line: always be prepared.

10 Soprano June 12, 2009 at 11:46 am

Umbrellas? How about taking the rain like a man? I don’t feel a need to use an umbrella. Makes me feel masculine.

Although the Sword Umbrella does seem rather intriguing.

11 Santa June 12, 2009 at 12:16 pm

“An umbrella can keep you and your duds dry….”
Sorry but under no circumstance should you share an umbrella with a dude.

12 Christatos Aristad June 12, 2009 at 12:44 pm

The carrying of an umbrella is not just for oneself, but for the bystander in distress. A lady or gentleman obviously distress by the rain and unprepared for the downfall is the ultimate intended target of every mans extra umbrella. And the shared umbrella knows no gender preference. As gentlemen, our duty is to be polite and generous. If we see a man holding a binder full of possibly important documents, it is the gentleman’s, and true mans, duty to see him to his destination in safety from the rain as steward of your fellow man. This is of course my opinion, but I hold it strongly. After all, time spent under an umbrella with a man of possible importance could lead to a job or a friendship. See opportunity rather than embarrassment my friends.

I myself, as an old fashioned Englishman carry an umbrella large enough for two at all times, in the walking stick style. It’s a rather extravagant one, a special gift from a friend, designed to work like that unbreakable umbrella, self defense and all. Indeed my personal preference even without my special umbrella, is for the walking stick umbrella, not just for the self defense value, but for the greater coverage, it’s value as a walking stick, and the genuine value it has as an object of class. Collapsible umbrellas just don’t do it for me.

All that said, I would argue against there being anything uniquely masculine about roughing it in the rain. Perhaps rugged and tough, but not masculine. Theres nothing unmanly about wanting to keep a freshly pressed tuxedo your wearing to your sisters wedding from getting wet. Quite the contrary I would argue in fact. Again, my opinion, and no disrespect intended to anyone who disagrees.

13 Dave Lewis June 12, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Sorry guys – I can’t see Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, or John Wayne with an umbrella. When I was in the military, we wore raincoats or ponchos so that our hands would be free for tools, weapons and other manly objects. And women look sexy when they’re wet.

14 brett June 12, 2009 at 3:55 pm

I have to speak up on this issue because i was thinking about this the other day. During the winter we had a nasty rain and sleet storm here in NY, and so while perusing Macy’s i decided to pick up an umbrella for the trip home and beyond. I bought one of those nice wind resisting ones with the two layers of fabric shown above. The maker was Totes and was only $20 for a nice strong feeling umbrella. Leaving Manhattan shortly later i opened the umbrella up once exiting the path train in NJ and seconds later and gust of 40 miles an hour rushes through the streets and upends my umbrella like i was in a cartoon. I had pocketed the lifetime-warranty slip moments before this and decided to send the umbrella in with $3 return postage. A week later I receive a letter from the company stating apologies loosing the umbrella so abruptly and also included was my check voided, telling me that they could not expect me to pay for it to be fixed and shipped back. Another week later they sent me a brand new umbrella for free. That’s a decent umbrella but a fantastic company. So for $20 you can have an umbrella forever. I also keep a wooden cane umbrella for nicer occasions.

15 Gary June 12, 2009 at 5:05 pm

I keep a basic black with wood handle, full size umbrella in the car. I paid $50 for it 10 years ago.

Thanks to a co-worker from the UK who turned me on to the idea of a proper umbrella after I came in drenched one morning.

I can tell you the times I have used it to get someplace in the pouring rain, to help a young lady in rain distress and how many times it has started conversations about having a good umbrella it has so been worth it.

Also note, it has worked well in the snow as well……

16 Shane June 12, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Soprano: Real men don’t TAKE anything. Also, not very masculine when you’re in bed with pnuemonia.
Santa: I hope you’re kidding.
Dave Lewis: Ahem, http://imagecache.allposters.com/images/pic/DMPOD/WA2948236-FB~John-Wayne-Standing-Under-a-Big-Black-Umbrella-in-the-Rain-in-London-October-1960-Posters.jpg
True, women do look sexy when wet, but if they’re wet when they COULD have been dry….Lord help us all.

17 Kevin June 12, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Dave Lewis: Yes, women in wet clothes can look sexy, but if you encounter a woman in the rain, chances are she’s wet already. So if you have an umbrella to share the sexy wet woman will be right beside you, grateful for your assistance. This probably makes a better impression than merely ogling her in your poncho while holding your manly things in your hands.

Oh, and according to Cigar Aficionado, Clint Eastwood is partial to Brigg umbrellas: http://www.cigaraficionado.com/Cigar/CA_Archives/CA_Show_Article/0,2322,656,00.html

18 Dave Lewis June 12, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Shane – I stand corrected. Now don’t tell me that the Duke had just eaten quiche with a cup of herb tea. There are some things that we are not meant to know.

19 Fraz June 12, 2009 at 6:28 pm

@Christatos Would you mind sharing the manufacturer of your umbrella? It seems both Fulton and Brigg are popular, but I would be interested to know if you have something different.

20 Ced June 12, 2009 at 7:21 pm

what about the large golf umbrellas? also i want that unbreakable umbrella

21 LB June 13, 2009 at 7:21 am

There are no finer umbrellas in the world than those produced by Fox & Co in the UK. None. They are not aerodymncailly designed and can still withstand winds of around 70mph, not that I have tested it personally. They also have a splendid masculine simplicity to their appearance.

22 Steve Treacle June 14, 2009 at 7:40 am

A couple of years ago, I decided the time was right to invest in an umbrella that would be a friend for life.

For me, there was only one place to go: James Smith, in Bloomsbury, London, just a stone’s throw from the British Museum. It is a fantastic, long-established shop, selling pretty-much nothing other than walking sticks and umbrellas.

Standing in the shop, I felt like Harry Potter when he went to buy his wand. The whole place is a delight. If you are in London, check it out!

http://www.james-smith.co.uk/

23 Jeff June 14, 2009 at 5:31 pm

How about how a gentleman carries one, when not to open it, etc…?

24 Trent June 14, 2009 at 10:26 pm

One way to stay dry without an umbrella in milder rain is a hat and trench coat. Any decent fedora (etc.) will keep your head and face dry as long as the wind isn’t too strong.

Even so, I carry an umbrella, too. I would love to get one of those nice English models… someday.

25 Keith D June 15, 2009 at 3:39 am

There are enough hikers who like the utility of an umbrella that lightweight pack equipment manufacturer GoLite has developed an ultralight collapsible backpackers umbrella.

26 chris June 17, 2009 at 12:25 pm

This is a great post, although i wish that there was a little more information like jeff said. Plus, a list of suppliers would be fantastic

27 lando June 18, 2009 at 6:40 pm

I got to use my umberella today! i was also able to escort two lovely young ladies to lunch under said umberella and have a wonderful time.

28 Finnian June 22, 2009 at 5:45 pm

I’m sorry, but nothing speaks of manly, grown-up coolness as much as being all dressed up in a suit and carrying an umbrella, whether rolled up or actually using it. It simply screams, “I am a grown up man and not some foolish, macho, wanna-be man-child who mistakenly thinks that getting wet makes one a man.”

I teach high-school, and trust me, only sixteen-year-olds walk in the rain and allow themselves to get wet purposefully. Men carry an umbrella.

29 Peaches June 24, 2009 at 6:02 am

An executive with Chick Fil A tells this story about an umbrella.
After a long company trip he and his wife came home to a driving rainstorm. He went to get the car but could not get close to the curb for pick up. In the days before so much security, he parked several lanes away and ran toward baggage claim in the pouring rain. He loooked up to see his wife under a large umbrella walking toward him with the CEO, Mr. Cathy, carrying her luggage, in the downpour walking behind.
A two-fer as a gentleman and a leader.

30 Aaron June 27, 2009 at 7:29 am

I carry a small umbrella in my “book” bag (I’m a college student). It hit the rainy season out here, and the other night, I walked a female friend to her car in the downpour.

Only if you forgot your umbrella and you’re in a hurry should you “take it like a man.” But honestly, if it’s too much of an open area and you’re wearing anything you value that the rain could damage, just hide under stuff and make small talk with others.

@Jeff: I think the general rule of thumb about umbrellas is… don’t open them indoors, and don’t try to swallow it (like a sword swallower–there’s a segment of 1000 Ways To Die on that). I don’t think there’s really any other rules.

31 Matthew July 2, 2009 at 2:15 pm

I’ve been carrying an umbrellla since I was a teenager (not too long ago, I’m still in my early twenties) and I’ve gotten every reaction from ridicule to compliment and I tell you the nay-sayers shut their mouths when the rain came down. I’ll be honest when I say that I’ve never bought a “proper” umbrella, just the cheaper full-length ones and I tend to cycle them through every few years. I did however spend a little bit more on a collapsable one that I bought from a complany out of London. This one is so useful everytime I’ve needed it,I’ve been able to pull it out of my backpack and pop it right open.

I’m in the Navy and just returned to San Diego from an overseas deployment. While I might not need one as much in home port, It is rather handy on that wayward liberty call in Pattaya with 40kts of driving wind and rain, every other sailor sprinting to the bus while I can casually stroll right in.

As much as I love the full-length walking stick, I had to contend with a smaller one due to lack of storage space onboard and believe me, it all worked out in the end.

32 Stan Geronimo July 12, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Beautiful! I love this post! I have the habit of being picky with umbrellas. But I don’t buy the fancy ones, knowing that an umbrella is always temporary. I misplace one every couple of months or so.

33 SwitzerBaden September 1, 2009 at 5:21 am

Excellent article, Brett. One umbrella that I have recently come across is the most Gentlemanly Polite Umbrella by Joo Youn Paek. It is a shrinkable umbrella can morph its shape by pulling strings in the handle to reduce the occupied space and to increase maneuverability. The video clearly establishes this umbrella position in the gentleman/gentledude’s arsenal.

34 Richard October 7, 2009 at 4:54 pm

I bought a fantastic umbrella in Lille, France back in 1975 or 1976. It was a strong steel collapsible umbrella that automatically opened, had a large black canopy, and withstood winds like a champ. It cost $20 then and I’d love to have another that well made, but there’s nothing available here except those cheap Totes and worse.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter