Umbrellas for Dummies

Parasolerie Heurtault, Pep’s, and James Smith & Sons were three umbrella shops I visited in Paris and London.

Pep’s storefront in Paris. They outsource their umbrellas, and do repair all umbrellas.

I’m glad I did. I know nothing about umbrellas. A total umbrella dummy. That’s why I entreated each store assistant to guide me towards buying and maintaining a quality umbrella.

First, ascertain your umbrella length. Many makers don’t care about fitting umbrellas to their clients and just make them at standard lengths.

Umbrellas are often used as canes, so length impacts your health, the way you walk, and daily comfort. You want to be able to stand up straight. Imagine walking on a cane that is too short — your back will eventually hunch.

Length also matters for proportion. James Smith & Sons has an adjustable cane to determine your proper umbrella length. Not many stores have this measuring tool. I came out to 32”.

Representative at James Smith & Sons demonstrating proper arm form/balance.

You hold the adjustable cane, and the crook of your arm should bend slightly (around 165°). Try walking around. The representative should observe your gait and adjust the cane’s length accordingly. Does it feel comfortable, your arm not strained, or compensating for balance?

Walking, your shoulder socket should not rise at all. Everything should feel quite natural.

Decorative array of feminine, single-stick umbrellas by Michel Heurtault

Length and quality are the two most important considerations. I definitely prefer the aesthetic and quality of solid-stick umbrellas, the shaft made from a single piece of wood.

Some vouch for maple, but you can select from many materials, really: leather, hickory, cherry-wood, and hazel root-knob among them.

Wood is extremely pliable, which is how umbrella makers warp the handles. Imagine the task!

Another important factor is the umbrella’s canopy. Some are made in silk, others in polyester (more affordable). I’m not entirely sure, but Michel Heurtault may be able to offer Twell de soi canopies, for superior silk strength. But those cost more.

I learned some valuable advice: how to properly close your umbrella.

Collapse your canopy. Then use your dominant hand to continually twist the bottom shaft, clock-wise; curl your other hand at the top of the canopy to follow down the twisting and neatly wrap the canopy. Voila!

I can recall crumpling my crappy umbrella a month ago, now shuddering at the abuse.

Umbrellas are pretty low-maintenance and can be brought in for repairs. Some brands only accept repairs for their own umbrellas, like James Smith & Sons. So call beforehand.

On another note, I think it’s interesting that various makers/repairers have preferred ways of opening, closing, and using umbrellas. Maybe we can reserve that topic for a future post?

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