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How to Rock a Parasol for Style or Sun Protection

NEW YORK CITY — Despite the odd stares she gets, Elizabeth Black proudly walks through the city shading herself with a lacy, cream-colored parasol.

Black, a 27-year-old Tudor City resident, started sporting parasols to stay cool during the summer after she got pregnant three years ago. She's never looked back.

“You can get some looks when you’re trying to go over people’s heads with it in the city, but it’s something different,” said Black, who shopped for her dainty umbrellas on eBay.

"People stop me in the street all the time to ask me about it," Black said. "They tell me it’s beautiful and they say I look like a renaissance lady or something.

DNAinfo New York spoke to local retailers and customers about how to find the best parasol for you.

For stylish shade

Many of the most stylish parasols aren't made for UV protection or with rain-blocking capabilities, but that may be what makes them so chic.

“After so many years, it’s become a fashion item, said Shing Yeh Chen, president of SoHo's Pearl River market, which carries a diverse collection of paper, nylon and silk parasols.

“Parasols are the new hats. Whoever buys our parasols, they buy them because they feel proud of it. They appreciate the culture and want to show that ‘I have something you don’t have. I know something you don’t know',” Chen said.

As paper parasols go, versions from Thailand are made with thick rice paper and are slightly more durable and more expensive ($30) than others, Chen said. Many of the paper parasols are coated with a water-resistant oil called “tong,” though they’re not meant to be used as umbrellas and should be kept open to dry if they get wet, Chen said.


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Pearl River also has a small collection of silk vintage parasols with hand-painted landscapes of Hangzhou city (priced at $39.95).

Midtown’s Rain or Shine carries a pricier variety of parasols imported from France, including ones with lace, ruffles, and ornamental wooden and metal handles — some studded with gems or tassels.

“It’s an accessory,” said Lou Cruz, a saleswoman at Rain or Shine. “If they look good in it, they’ll get it.”

The Chantal Thomass parasol, priced at $160, is made with a soft, red polyester fabric patterned with silver stars and a black lace border.

A Pierre Vaux parasol, priced at $205, is made of layers of dark gray and light gray lace, a wooden handle and a tassel. 

For protective shade:

Those looking to protect their skin from sun damage should focus on parasols with special linings that block out UV rays, although they tend to come in darker shades and allow less wind to pass through the fabric, according to vendors.

“From a young age, I was very concerned with my skin,” said Caroina Guizar, a West Village resident who launched an online parasol company called Carasols in 2008.

“In my 20s, I started worrying about getting age spots or little sun spots. When I did a search on Google, there wasn’t anyone really providing these types of protective parasols online.”

Carasol’s parasols come in pastel pink, cream, sky blue, chocolate and black colors with lacey or decorative fringes. They can block from 80 to 99 percent of UV rays, depending on the color and type. Prices range from $80 to $325.

For ultimate protection, Rain or Shine recently stocked new parasols from Japan that block 100 percent of UV rays — though a lot of them have a black lining on the inside that can get hot after a lot of sun. Prices for those are around $105.

Upper East Side resident Euny Hong has used parasols for years to avoid sun damage — especially because she’s allergic to most lotions and sunblock.

"I've always kind of had one," said Hong. "I lived in France and they were easier to find there. In the city, they kind of look at you funny — it's not a thing.

“Sun is more damaging to your skin than alcohol though,” she continued. “For those who feel squeamish about using it in the city, I’d say, think about how you want your face to look in 20 years.”