“A pure hand needs no glove to cover it,” Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, yet people have been attracted to gloves and mittens since ancient times. The first gloves were developed to fight off the cold and later they were used for gardening and rough work. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all wore gloves. Homer wrote in The Odyssey that Laertes wore gloves while gardening to protect himself from brambles. Often the peasants in these societies wore three-fingered gloves while the nobility wore five-fingered ones.
There is a legend that gloves became fashionable amongst the nobility in Italy in 1071 when the Doge of Venice, Domenico Seivo, married a well-dressed Constantine who liked wearing them. The nobility favoured beautifully decorated gloves that were often adorned with jewels or embroidery and made of fine materials such as leather or fur.
History of Gloves: Gloves and Royalty
The effigies of the medieval kings Henry II, Richard I, and John show them wearing gloves decorated with jewels. King John’s were also embroidered. Imagine how these gloves glittered with diamonds and rubies amidst the splendour of the Court.
The fashion of jeweled gloves lasted centuries. Mary Queen of Scots owned beautifully made gloves embroidered with gold and silver and decorated with pearls. Queen Elizabeth I favored richly embroidered gloves decorated with jewels. Nobles gave her many of these as presents. Some were New Year’s gifts, it was apparently the custom of English monarchs to ask their subjects for presents for the New Year.
Queen Elizabeth I also gave gloves to aristocrats as presents. She gave George de Clifford the Earl of Northumberland a pair and he had them encrusted with diamonds.
Monarchs favored scented gloves, a practice that began in Italy. According to legend Catherine de Medici’s perfumer Rene de Florentin put scent on the gloves to hide the smell of the poisonous potions that she used to murder her many enemies. Catherine is supposed to have introduced perfumed gloves to France. Perfumes used to scent gloves included ambergris, civet, and musk.
History of Gloves: Gloves in Fashion
Iconic photos show movie stars such as Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner wearing glamorous opera-length gloves. The photos of Princess Grace and Jackie Kennedy wearing short white gloves became iconic.
Some types of gloves were banned in European countries by sumptuary laws. These laws prevented the wearing of certain clothing and accessories by “commoners” to prevent extravagance and vanity. Rome for example banned perfumed gloves in 1560.
Gloves were almost mandatory for women in later centuries and remained so until the 1960s when liberated women grew tired of wearing hats and gloves. Men also wore gloves for evening wear including opera gloves. The lengths and tightness of fashionable gloves varied. In the nineteenth century many chic women wore gloves that were too tight for them so that their hands would be delicately cupped. The coy ladies of nineteenth century paintings are probably just uncomfortable!
Opera gloves became fashionable in Edwardian times. “The Divine Sarah” (Sarah Bernhardt) liked to wear these gloves to show off her slender arms and to enhanced her expressive hand movements on stage. The American actress Lillian Russell liked to wear opera gloves (some of hers were shoulder-length). She caused a sensation when she rode along New York’s Fifth Avenue on a gold and silver bicycle wearing white shoulder-length kid gloves.
According to a lecture by Mr. Merola of the Merola Gloves Company at London Lounge, “The inter-war years saw the most incredible artistic and handcrafted creations as never seen before, once again stimulated by the desires of the upper classes”. Unusual materials such as peccary, ostrich, and astrakhan lamb were used to make gloves.
This stylish accessory has seen a comeback recently as pretty lace, long leather and even opera. Italian glove makers have always been highly regarded because of the quality of their materials and craftsmanship. Sermonetta and Gallo are some of the better known brands to choose from if you are interested in buying these accessories for the winter.