A brolly good idea

Umbrellas, not parasols, are this summer's must-have items.

Let it never be said that we don't listen to our readers. Just last week, a Betty wrote asking me why, considering the weather, I didn't write about umbrellas. What a good idea! Because the pursuit of a good umbrella - by that I mean one that behaves in the rain and the wind (otherwise, what's the point?) but can fold up small enough so you can take it with you - is a vigorous exercise. I expect if you're extremely rich, you already have a Rolls-Royce umbrella at £280,000. You do also get a car for that - the Phantom - and, actually, two umbrellas (bargain!), one in each rear door, that the chauffeur unsheathes as you step out on to the dirty old pavement.

Those lovely City umbrellas, the sort you stroll along with and mark your step by - well, they're the best for keeping the rain off, with their huge albatross-like wingspan. And they're fab ulous for poking people with to make a point, but quite hopeless for shoving nonchalantly in a bag. If you fancy one, however, James Smith & Sons sells them for about £100.

Marks & Spencer, despite low profit warnings, makes the best small, fold-up umbrella I've ever found: all for about £10. Be wary of buying a fold-up brolly that's really tiny. These take up less room in your bag, but they also cover less of you. What you're after is a mini, not a micro, model. Once, in a furious downpour on Bond Street, and quite without my beloved Marks & Spencer umbrella, I was forced to take shelter in Boots and decided to pay a fiver - or something similar - for a really tiny, pink floral umbrella. It was so small, almost like a keyring, that I felt sure it would be invaluable, and that I'd always have it with me, quite unnoticed, at the bottom of my bag (it was that small, unlike the M&S one, the car riage of which is a more conscious decision). I put my new brolly up and, well, it offered a fraction more coverage than those joke "umbrella hats". You got either a wet front or a wet back. There are harder choices in life, for sure, but at that moment none more pressing.

If a folding umbrella is really not what you want, Plümo has a very pretty black pagoda-shaped Edwardian umbrella with tassels on the handle. We used to have one at home, but in silk polka-dot, yet of course we never used it, as it was too pretty and we feared losing it. I'm also a fan of those dome-shaped, see-through ones, the sort of thing the girls in Man About the House would have used. They're intensely practical, even though they're not fold-up, because you can keep your head and shoulders covered and see where you're going in your own micro climate (you may even be able to smoke under one if you're careful). Mercifully, John Lewis still sells them, made by Fulton, for ten whole pounds.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 30 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Brown v Cameron. Game over?