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If you’ve been to an outdoor event lately — anywhere large numbers of women gather in the sun — you probably have noticed. Parasols are popping up all over.

A onetime wardrobe essential that had been retired to the trunk for decades, sun umbrellas are being rediscovered by a new generation that finds them both a cute fashion accessory and functional. And it’s not just steam punkers, burlesque performers and costumers who are carrying their shade in their tote bags.

Celebrities from Katy Perry and Gwen Stefani to Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga and Kate, The Duchess of Cambridge, have been spotted taking cover beneath pretty parasols. First anointed a few years ago by Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, the trendy accessories are now comfortably mainstream and featured on popular sites like Amazon and Etsy.

“I like the fact that you can have shade without having to wear a hat or anything. I don’t go out and tan,” said Jacquelyn England, who bought a wicked little parasol with a Skull and Crossbones motif at the recent Rivertown Revival in Petaluma.

She also bought a plain little parasol at the Petaluma Music Festival for shade and proceeded to use it in the Butter and Egg Days Parade, marching in the second line behind her husband’s band, “The Dixie Giants.”

“I think they look kind of classy and fun,” said England, who at 41 is watching out for her skin. “Sometimes it’s a little annoying to carry, but it’s worth it to have the shade and the fashion.”

‘For Sun’

They may be trendy but they’re hardly new. Parasols — the word literally means “for sun” in Spanish — have been spotted in the ancient sculptures and carved stone in the Middle East and in engravings and paintings from Egypt and Greece.

In Rome, they were known as umbraculum, formed of skin or leather.

They showed up in China, India and eventually in Europe. But it is really through the paintings of Monet and on the pages of Jane Austen and the Godey’s fashion magazines of the 1800s that we start to see parasols come into their own as fashionable accessories.

Melanie Dado-Stammler, a fourth-generation Petaluman, said she has been enchanted with parasols every since she found one among her great-grandmother’s belongings, which had been left in a family home untouched since the day she died.

“It was a teeny little parasol. It was black and had a collapsible handle so it could fit in your purse or bag. It was just dainty and amazing and had a feeling of lace,” she said.

Mobile boutique

Now Dado-Stammler sells a variety of fashionable parasols out of her Bus Shoppe, a 25-foot mobile fashion boutique she takes to local fairs and festivals. They’ve proven so popular she’s sold out for the season.

“They allow you to express your personality,” she said of the latest in outdoor fashion accessories.

They now come in a huge range of styles, materials, colors and shapes, from inexpensive paper to silk, nylon, cotton, lace and other fabrics, including materials with built-in UV ray protection. They can be square, round, scalloped or pagoda shaped.

Emmy Martin, who makes umbrellas for the Seattle-based Bella Umbrella, which also sells online, said popular this year are white lace parasols and parasols in more subdued colors like navy, black and black-and-white.

“Some people want them for walking down the street. Some want them for festivals. We’ve had tons of people buying them for Burning Man,” she said.

Bella has provided parasols for TV shows and celebrity weddings for Kate Moss and Zooey Deschanel. NCIS’s Pauley Perrette has been accessorized by Bella.

Parasols are almost de rigeur in weddings.

“People use them a lot in the wine country during ceremonies. They’re outdoors and people need some sort of shelter but to put out a huge umbrella is not as tasteful as a little parasol,” said Kelly McLeskey-Dolata of A Savvy Event event planners in Sonoma.

“It’s a nice way to customize and add to the decor of an event.”

Parasols can be put out in baskets and bins for guests, accessorized by bridesmaids in place of hats or used as a cute prop for wedding photos, with the happy couple kissing behind them becoming an increasingly popular stock shot.

Lines of defense

Santa Rosa dermatologist Dale Westrom is delighted by the trend. Sun exposure leads to wrinkles, brown spots and skin cancer.

“I tell my patients there are three lines of defense from the sun and sunscreen is third. The first is sun avoidance if you can. The second is protective clothing and a parasol would be protective. It would block out most of the light, if not all of it,” said the veteran physician with Redwood Empire Dermatology.

Sunscreens, he added, primarily protect against UVB rays, which are present in the middle of the day. They are less effective against the UVA rays during the rest of the day.

“The value of a parasol is that it’s going to block all the rays, depending on the material,” he said.

“Now if we could just get gloves back into fashion, too.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.