Given the weather that greeted me this morning, today seems like as good a day as any to talk about umbrellas.
In London especially, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has spent any amount of time here, a plain black umbrella used to be such a ubiquitous accessory that they have become a symbol for businessmen in general, and bankers in particular.
Such a useful tool can't possibly go out of fashion, but it's certainly much less common to see them being carried, furled, on a day that shows no particular sign of rain beyond the general unpredictability of British weather. In part this may be because those people who do like to be prepared against bad weather are more likely to tuck one of those tiny folding umbrellas into their bag or briefcase, and in part it may be because men are less inclined to be encumbered by clothes and accessories that require keeping an eye on when out and about.
I can't help feeling this is a shame, and I prefer to see a furled umbrella, carried even when it's not raining, as both a practical precaution and also a classic and stylish accessory. Whether carried like a walking stick, held in the centre as you stride through crowds, or hooked over an elbow as you examine your race card; a good black umbrella needn't be an uncumbrance, and you (and anyone with you) will be extremely grateful for it when it does end up raining.
My own, a gift from some friends, is a classic city umbrella from James Smith and Sons, who I cannot reccomend highly enough. It's black, of course, with the traditional 'whangee' handle, ten spokes (rather than the more usual eight), and a wooden tip capped in sterling silver. The band that holds the spokes together when it's furled is brass, I think, and my friends had it engraved with my initials, which is a nice touch. Go and get yourself one!