Are Umbrellas Cool? A scientific study

Earlier this week, I found myself scrambling into a little-used door at the end of the Education Center, dripping wet, trying not to slip on the tile floor while searching for a bathroom whose paper towels I could ravage in order to dry off. It was not the first time that I walked in the rain that day, however it was the first time I got wet.

A guy with an umbrella isn’t cool. Let’s face it. If you don’t believe me, then next time you are strolling the campus in the rain, take a look around. That’s what I did, and that’s how I gathered the information for this completely scientific study of the coolness of umbrellas. Let’s start with the data (excluding myself in the numbers):

  • In total I counted 464 students walking in the rain
  • In all, 4 of them were carrying umbrellas
  • 3 of those 4 carrying umbrellas were female

First of all, I know you are impressed with how swiftly and accurately I am able to count while walking to class. Be secure in the fact that there was no human error while conducting this experiment. So, according to my calculations, only .009% of students carry umbrellas, while only .002% of males do so. Go ahead and check my calculations, professor. They’re correct. But numbers this staggering aren’t derived from laziness. Not that many students forget to check the weather before heading to class, or just accidentally leave their umbrellas behind (if they even buy one in the first place). No, I suspect there is something deeper going on here. The decision for 99.991% of students to not carry an umbrella has to be a conscious one rooted in a deep, psychological cause.

First, let’s see if there is a valid practical reason that builds a case against umbrellas, one that successfully refutes their functionality. It is true, there are a few arguments you may think fit into this category. Maybe you are like me, and your mom gave the umbrella you have to you because she wanted to look out for your well-being. And because you are a grown man, the circumference of the dainty little thing barely encompasses your personal space, which means all the water running off the edges either falls right onto your book bag or onto your knees when you step forward. Fair enough. You could also argue that when walking with an umbrella, you face obstacles that you wouldn’t normally face, like having to dodge foliage normally above your head, or avoiding bumping umbrellas with someone else. That’s a good point as well, but both arguments are easily refutable.

Ok, sure, you don’t want your book bag or knees wet, but would they not get wet anyways without an umbrella? And, isn’t having some part of your body dry (like say, your head) better than all parts being wet? As for the other reason, it’s only disguised as a practical argument. In reality it stems from your psychological fear of awkward social interactions. Think about it. You would rather get wet then walk a little out of the way to avoid bumping into strange trees or strange people who also have umbrellas. That’s not practical at all. So this fear of awkward interaction has to be the place from where the un-coolness of umbrellas stems.

There are a few things in life that will always be uncool, regardless of how practical they are. Just like you can never look gangsta while drinking from a straw, you will never look awesome while carrying an umbrella, no matter what. Your umbrella could be like mine, simple, black, and not too obtrusive, but something lame will always stick out like its feminine carved wooden handle. You could have the fly-est, freshest, newest Gucci umbrella, but guess what, this isn’t Victorian Great Britain, so when you walk into a building there won’t be someone offering to take it along with your coat in order to store it properly in a dry place. What there will be, is the awkward fumbling to shake off excess water and close it before you walk through the door.

You may remember that in my statistics that there was one guy who was actually using an umbrella. Wait until you hear the story of this guy. But first, let me give an anecdote about a friend of mine. We’ll call him David Beckham. One day, Davie points out a couple across the street and says, “You ever see a guy talking to a girl and think to yourself, ‘Poor fool is trying so hard, but if I walked up the girl would forget about him in a heartbeat’?” Well Beckham was obviously joking; he likes to employ a ridiculous amount of self-confidence in his humor. But at the same time, I never saw him fail with a woman either, so maybe he was being serious. (Not that he’s a womanizer, I never ever saw him take advantage of or treat a woman poorly – but we are getting besides the point.) I told Becks that no, in fact, I had never really thought that way. Not because I lack self confidence, but I guess it’s just not my nature. “Fair enough,” he said, and that was the end of it.

When I saw this guy with the umbrella, I immediately thought of this conversation with Beck. The guy was walking astride a cute girl, and they were obviously flirting. The thing was, the guy had this ginormous bright green umbrella. Strike one. But not only was he carrying this umbrella, he did not offer to allow the girl to use it, or even smoother, say she could step under it with him. Strike two.

I mean the girl had on a raincoat, so maybe he assumed she didn’t need the umbrella? That assumption is strike three. Raincoats don’t do much besides provide an easy excuse to walk in the rain without an umbrella. On top of all that, because the umbrella was so big, all of its runoff was falling square in the center of this poor girls head. Strike four. You know what they say, four strikes and your out. I saw the entire interaction. What started with a friendly, flirtatious conversation ended with this girl becoming annoyed, trying to wipe the water from her face and homeboy never even picked up on it. Strike five. You blew it man. Should have left the umbrella at home. I could definitely have done better than that guy…

Or could I? Remember the in media res story at the beginning of this article? The one in which I was soaking wet trying to figure out how to dry off? Well, I also said it wasn’t the first time that day I walked in the rain, though it was the first time I got wet. Early that morning, I arrived to campus around 7 AM, began walking out of my parking garage, noticed it was raining and turned around to shamelessly fetch my umbrella from my car. While walking to and from my first couple classes that morning, I began noticing something…I felt like the only one with an umbrella. So I began gathering the data and observations that I’ve already presented to you. My immediate conclusion was obvious; no one carries umbrellas because they aren’t cool. Everything up to this point in this article has proven why. So, because being cool is important, and there was only a light drizzle at that point, I had put my umbrella back in my car by about midday.

Basking in my newfound coolness, I almost forgot that I had an appointment with my advisor in the Jewish Studies Center. For anyone who doesn’t know where that building is, it’s on the corner of Wentworth and Glebe, or in other words, forever away from my parking garage next to Bell South Building.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 10.10.42 PM

The oval is Jewish Studies Center and the star is my parking garage

I mention this distance because when I left my appointment with my advisor and was about to walk outside, a nice lady told me, “You better get an umbrella, sweetie!” I gave her a sly look like, “Do I look like some kind of a loser who needs an umbrella?” However, upon approaching the door to go outside, I see the torrents of rain through the window and say out loud, “Oh sh*t.” A couple of people were standing by the door waiting on it to subside, and a Physical Plant worker hears me and gives me an understanding look saying, “I know man, I’ve been standing here for twenty minutes because of this sh*t.” I shrug at him and say, “Might just have to get wet,” and stride coolly and umbrella-less into the rain.

Needless to say, well before I found myself slipping into the Education Center, I learned firsthand how much I could care less about being cool. In fact, not using an umbrella didn’t make me cool, but rather it made me freezing cold. And dripping wet. I tried to grab a newspaper from a rack in the building to hold over my head for the remaining back to my garage, but those things definitely don’t work like in the movies. In fact, nothing works quite like an umbrella.

When it was all said and done, I think this whole thing was about a lot more than umbrellas, because I learned a lot. Being comfortable is way better than being cool, and sometimes being comfortable can even make you cool, because you wont end up sitting in class soaking wet. Also, though it’s very good to be observant, sometimes noticing little and unimportant things comes from a place that’s obsessive or anxious, and you should never let yourself do something irrational because of this. And finally, you know what your mom always used to say, “Don’t jump off a bridge just because all your friends are doing it.” Even if 99.991% of people don’t carry umbrellas, if it makes sense to carry one, do it. Chances are that will just make you part of the top 0.009% of smart people around…

But there is always a small chance that I was actually right the whole time, and the whole thing wasn’t in my head, and umbrelllas really aren’t that cool. Since this can be the case, I will provide you with alternative options that allow you to use an umbrella and stay at the cool table:

1. The Lightsaber Umbrella:


The handle is a lightsaber hilt, the stem of the umbrella lights up, and when it opens, you see the rebel symbol pop out. This is clearly the way to go.

2. Chinese Mama-Dance Charleston’s routine with umbrellas:


I got to see this group perform at Boundless Words and Voices, and they definitely make umbrellas cool.

3. Bullet-Proof Umbrella that shoots a rubber bullet from the end:


Though I’m not sure if James Bond ever uses an umbrella, this one from Kingsman is pretty awesome. Plus, with this, you can fight off a bunch of bullies at the bar.

Now that you have some options, you can be cool, practical and comfortable; all the tools you need to conquer adulthood (ha).

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Bradley Harrison is a senior at College of Charleston. After a long and painful stint as an engineering student at a university in Georgia which you probably have never heard of, he has decided to come back home to his native Charleston and study Spanish and Education. As a keen observer of pop culture, he loves art house cinema,, and the Ringer. FOH Army for life.

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