Gloves are one of the most versatile articles of clothing. Not only are they wonderful fashion accessory, they serve vital purposes.
The earliest gloves probably were created to keep people’s hands warm. Though there are earlier mentions of gloves, once instance was documented in 1st century AD by Pliny the Younger. He wrote of a scribe who wore them in the winter to keep his hands warm enough to write in a cold and drafty castle. Though nothing in my research suggested women wore glove as early as men, I can’t believe women didn’t need them for warmth just as men did, maybe more so.
Archaeologists found gloves found in Egyptian tomb of King Tutankhamen, a.k.a. “King Tut” circa 1400 B.C. These were made of linen. Apparently, pharaohs wore gloves as a symbol of wealth and power, while women wore them as a beauty treatment–they rubbed oil on their hands and them put on silk gloves over them to protect them and let the oil soak into the skin. I do a similar thing with socks on my feet after rubbing in foot cream.
Glove makers made gloves out of almost anything–leather such as sheepskin or deerskin or kidskin, silk, and linen. They often decorated gloves with stitching, tooling, precious metals, jewels, and fine embroidery.
Gloves were worn to help protect the hands as well as keep them warm. Many people wore them when handling tools or working with leather. Warriors and knights wore gauntlets which is a very heavy duty glove. Falconers, as a matter of survival, wore thick gloves also called gauntlets very early to protect their hands from the sharp claws of their beautiful hunting birds. Sometimes they decorated their gauntlets to match the hood they used to covered their bird’s eyes. Riders and carriage drivers knew gloves were necessary to protect hands from reins.
In England, women’s gloves became a fashion accessory during the thirteenth century, most often made of linen and silk. A guild of glove makers in 13th century Paris made them of skin or fur. They didn’t become truly fashionable until the 16th century. Queen Elizabeth wore jeweled and embroidered gloves, and she reportedly slipped them off frequently to show off her beautiful hands.
During the Regency Era, men and women wore different gloves for different occasions. They always wore them when they left their homes to go for walks or call on friends. It was considered poor breeding to be seen without gloves. They wore them when attending balls, the opera and dinners with friends. It was considered bad form for a gentleman to touch a lady without his gloves on–far too intimate, you know 😉 About the only time ladies didn’t wear gloves was while eating at which time they slipped them off and laid them on their laps.
Another option for ladies were mitts, or fingerless gloves. They wore them to keep their hands covered, both from weather and from society’s censure, yet still allowed freedom of movement for writing letters, needlework, playing cards, etc. Gloves and mitts or mittens were often made of soft leather or silk. They wore them during the day at home, sometimes with holes in the fingers, so they could read, do needlepoint, and write. Usually those were knitted or crocheted.
Evening wear, which often but not always means a short-sleeved gown, is always shown in prints with long, over-the-elbow gloves in both French and British prints. Author and collector Candice Hern has over 500 prints and she found only one print showing evening gloves in pink. Most prints show white gloves for evening. British long gloves are always shown fairly baggy and scrunched down to just about the elbow.
Below is a portrait of a lady wearing her mittens, clearly showing her fingers, so they must not have been considered informal wear.
I wear gloves for warmth and for working in the yard, but the only other time I wear gloves is when I’m in Regency costume. It is nice to have on gloves when dancing, because if the man with whom I’m dancing has sweaty hands, I don’t know it, which spares us both some unpleasantness 🙂