Gloves date back to ancient societies. They have been found in the tombs of Royalty and Bishops, and are also pictured in early manuscripts dating back to the 10th century. Kybalova, et al (1968), state that sack shaped coverings without fingers dating back to the 21st Dynasty were found in the Egyptian Pyramids (p. 470-471). In 1922, archeologists discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamen remains of gloves decorated with a plaited, scale-motif design (Boucher, n.d., p. 98). Beck (1969) makes reference to Bzovius’ who described the gloves placed on the hands of Boniface the Eight (1235-1303) at the time of his internment as being made of white silk, beautifully worked with the needle, and ornamented with a rich border studded with pearls (p. 17). For many centuries fashion gloves had formed part of the costume worn by royalty, bishops, and higher ranking men and women, and by the fourteenth century they were worn by members of all classes.
Gloves may appear to be an “innocent” article of dress, but they actually have one of the most thought-provoking histories of all garments. In the past, like present day, gloves were worn to protect the hands and as a fashion accessory, but what makes them so special is that they have a long history of being associated with numerous customs, practices, rituals and symbolisms.
A study of gloves is actually a study of human conduct. From a symbolic interactionist perspective, individuals respond toward objects, in this case gloves, on the basis of the meanings that these objects hold for them and the meanings are derived through social interaction. When we refer to social interaction, we refer to the mutual orientation and shaping of conduct that leads to a joint action that is mutually recognized and to which are attached certain patterns of behavior. There are certain procedures and actions that people undertake in order to secure their ends, meet their needs, or pursue their goals (Blumer, 1969, p. 21; Hewitt, 1979, p. 15-16, 33).
This article attempts to show that in the past, the humble glove represented an outward and visible sign of a person’s faith, loyalty, trust, amity, love, honour, hostility and defiance towards others. Beck, who wrote a book on Gloves in 1883, believed that it was important to establish the “dignity of gloves, to show their long descent and value in costume, and to give them the position in the history of antiquity, to which their intimate relationship with the affairs of men fairly entitles them” (Beck, reprinted in 1969, p. 263).
This article does not purport to be an in-depth study of gloves. Its purpose is to lift the veil on some interesting aspects of gloves drawn mainly from secondary sources and interpreted by the writer through a process of cross-referencing data from different historical sources. Part I of this article identifies the most popular skins and fabrics used in glove-making over the centuries, followed by a description of some of the fashionable glove styles worn by European and North American men and women. Part II highlights certain customs, practices, rituals and symbolism associated with the usage of gloves to conduct human affairs. Mittens have a long history, but as they do not have the historical significance of gloves they have been omitted in this article.
FASHION GLOVES BEFORE THE 20th CENTURY
The demand for leather gloves in the 1100s resulted in the establishment of companies of Glovers who worked under the rule of a settled code of statutes. For example, in England, the Glovers of Perth received from William the Lyon a Charter of Incorporation in 1165. In France, the Glovers had formed themselves into a company as early as 1190. By the middle of fourteenth century, the occupation of Glover was big business throughout Europe (Beck, 1969, p. 9, 136-137, 143). Glovers used a number of skins, fabrics, scents, and decorations in the crafting of gloves which varied in length, shape, and color.
Over the centuries, sturdy leather gloves were worn by people who had to protect their hands such as labourers, field workers, men and women who had hawks as companions, and knights involved in battles and tournaments. The fashion gloves worn by the upper classes were crafted of finer leathers such as doeskin and kid (lamb). These gloves would be beautifully fringed and edged, richly embroidered and worked with gold thread or colorful silk threads, and some were adorned with precious stones. The common folk generally wore gloves of less expensive skins (Beck, 1969, p. 43, 58-60; Lester, 1956, p. 93; McClellan, 1977, p. 67; 107-101; Sichel, 1977, p. 11, 50-51, 64; Tortora & Eubank, 2010, p. 155).
From the 1400s onwards, gloves made from the skins of lamb, sheep, doe, calf, hare, and chicken were in demand by the upper echelons of society. Some of the other skins that were used in the fabrication of gloves included tanned ox, elk, buck, goat, and dog-skin (Boucher, n.d., p. 224). Dog-skin appears to have had a certain cachet for some people. Antonio Perez, a onetime Spanish ambassador, sent to Lady Knolles a pair of gloves with a letter, saying, “These gloves, madam, are made of the skin of a dog, the animal most praised for its fidelity (Beck, 1969, 183-184). By the 1500s, fine leather fashion gloves as well as scented gloves were being produced in Spain, Italy, France, and England (Laver, 2002, p. 102; Sichel, 1977, p. 50-51).
Between 1500 and 1700, chicken skin gloves were in high demand by refined women who wore them at night to keep their hands soft, and white. These gloves were so thin that they fitted into a walnut shell. The term chicken gloves became a misnomer as these skins were soon superseded by the thin and fine skins of unborn calves. The practice of wearing gloves at night, lined with unguents to impart particular delicacy to the skin, was also common with the gentlemen (Beck, 1969, p. 94-97; Lester, 1956, p. 119).
From 1500 onwards, fabric gloves crafted from silk, satin, velvet, cotton, and linen were stylish. Gloves knitted from thread and cotton appeared around the 1600s, the same time as knitted stockings. Beck (1969) explicates that the fibres of nettles, plants which have been used for centuries, and the fibres of byssus, the beard of the molluscous pinna, the silk-worm of the sea have also been used in the creation of gloves. Byssus gloves were of great fineness and delicacy, with a high price in proportion (p. 184-185). From the mid-1800s onwards, jean, sateen, and taffeta gloves were introduced. In the 1950s, nylon gloves, knitted in a variety of weights, textures, and colors, became trendy as well as naugahyde gloves made from vinyl coated fabric to imitate leather. However, leather gloves are still preferred by many people (Kybalova, et al, 1968, p. 470-471; Tortora & Eubank, 2010, p. 515).
Novelties in fabric gloves included: adding fringes or tassels at the wrist or on the cuffs; inserting gussets of lace at the back of the gloves or on the wrists; edging the wrists with ribbons and flowers, either real or artificial; embroidering the top of the gloves or the cuffs with gold, silver, and colorful threads; and, adding pearls, beadwork, or monograms to grace the gloves.
Perfumery was held in high repute by all Eastern nations for ages. Perfumes became the mania in sixteen century Italy, and gloves, hair, hats, moda shirts, stockings, shoes, all had to be scented (Durant, 1953, Part V, p. 583). Scented gloves, perfumed gloves, or sweet gloves, as they were called, were in great demand throughout Europe, probably up until the late 1700s. Perfumed gloves were firstly worn by women and men at Court, and by the other classes in the 1600s.
Spain introduced gloves scented with violet powder, and Italy and France eventually became recognized for their perfumed gloves. Scented gloves from Spain were originally made of kid, velvet, and satin. In the 1600s, the elegant ornamented gloves produced in France came in different styles, and each style was named after the perfume with which they were scented. There was, for instance, the “gants de Neroli”, named after the Princess Neroli whose perfume was in high favor, and the “gants d’occasion à la Frangipaire”, named after a nobleman who invented a fragrance for scenting gloves that had won him distinction (Evans, 1938, p. 57; Kybalova, et al, 1968, p. 470; Laver, 2002, p. 101-102; Lester, 1956, p. 93, 129; Sichel, 1977, p. 7, 11, 50-51).
When researching scented gloves, Beck (1969) discovered that all manner of fragrant herbs, cedar wood, myrtle, flowers, and drugs were used, singly and in combination, to give gloves a desirable odorous quality. He noted that an ordinary method of imparting the scent of particular flowers or spices was to mix animal fat or some kind of oil (almond oil, for instance) with essences then rub it into the glove. He described one of the perfuming recipes that any housewife could follow: “Put into angelica water and rose water the powder of cloves, ambergris, musk, and lignum aloes…. and to boil these till half the liquid be consumed, then strain it and put the gloves therein.” Afterwards, the gloves should then hang in the sun to dry, and are to be turned often. This procedure, he states, is to be repeated three times (p. 89-91, 94).
Glove Styles over the Centuries
Glove styles over the centuries have included the short, mid-length, and long buttoned gloves. There also were fingerless gloves and gauntlets.
Short gloves. Short gloves were generally worn in daytime or when wearing long sleeves. From the 1500s onwards, they were made of cotton, silk, kid, or knitted. The gloves and cuffs were often embroidered in fine silk, or over-loaded with ornaments. The embroidery resembled the magnificent tapestries of the times. Every kind of flower, stitched particularly in pink, butterflies, columbines, and even little goldfinches adorned these gloves. For a period of time the cavaliers wore white gloves with broad black lace ruffles and heavy fringes, or gloves of a pearl colour trimmed with gold (Beck, 1969, p. 121, 128; Evans, 1938, p. 95; Tortora & Eubank 2010, p. 223, 340, 367). Gernsheim (1981), points out that in the 1850s, French kid gloves fitted like a second skin so that the fingernails showed through (p. 42).
Long gloves. When short sleeves became modish in the 1700s women would wear long gloves. Some gloves reached half-way up the forearm, and others ended on the upper arm, or above the elbow. By the 1870s, twelve and fifteen button white kid, silk, or velvet gloves were worn with evening or dinner dress. From 1890-1902 very long suede gloves with as many as twenty buttons were in vogue. Long tight-fitting buttoned gloves made of kid leather, silk, or net remained fashionable into the 1900s. In the 1800s, wearing long suede buttoned gloves during the day and when having tea was considered chic. These gloves came in shades of beige, putty, mocha, and light gray (Beck, 1969, p. 114, 126, 128; Evans, 1939, p. 84, 101; Gernsheim, 1981, p. 53, 63, 86; Laver 2002, p. 210, 216).
Fingerless gloves. Fingerless gloves have a long history dating back to the early Romans and Greeks. The practical side of fingerless gloves was that they allowed a person to carry out tasks requiring finger dexterity such as stitching and embroidery. Fingerless gloves were quite popular with the wealthy classes who liked to display the flashiness of their rings. These gloves were crafted out of fine leathers, silk, or velvet, and came in different lengths and styles. Some had lovely tassels and others were richly embroidered (Sichel, 1977, p. 11, 25).
Gauntlets. Gauntlets are gloves that have a short or a long extended cuff that is usually flared. This style may have been borrowed from the Asiatic people. Gauntlets were the preferred gloves used by the medieval nobles and knights to protect their hands and forearms during battle and tournaments. By the mid-1500s, gauntlets became an important part of fashionable dress in Europe (Beck, 1969, p. 70-73).
The gauntlets worn by knights were referred to as war gloves, iron gloves, or defensive gloves. Their history is imbued with a spirit of chivalry, dignity, pride, and unquestionable courage. The leather foundation of defensive gauntlets consisted of overlapping pieces of serrated leather that covered the back of the hand like a shield, and their exterior would sometimes be coated with scales or other forms of pieces of plate such as horn or whalebone. Knights would add sharp pricks of steel, or gadlyngs between the joints of the gauntlet. These knuckle spikes became commonly worn, and added greatly to the rich ornamental designs of gauntlets (Beck, 1969, p. 71-77).
The stylish leather gauntlets worn in Europe after 1540 had short or long cuffs. The cuffs would be lined with crimson silk, edged with gold fringe, and elaborately embroidered with colourful silk and metal threads. In the 1800s, gauntlets lost much of their appeal but they made their re-appearance as a lady’s accessory in the 1920s-1930s (Beck, 1969, p. 121; Sichel, 1977, p. 50-51; Rothstein, 1984, p. 106-107).
Pictorial examples of gloves. The best way to appreciate the styles and exquisiteness of well-crafted gloves referred to in the first part of this article, is to peruse the catalogues of museum collections of gloves. To view collections of gloves dating back to the 1500s, visit the two websites identified below.
- The Fashion Museum, Somerset England, is reputed to have one of the finest glove collections in the world. http://www.museumofcostume.co.uk
- The Victoria and Albert Museum also have a collection of gloves worthy of admiration. http://collections.vam.ac.uk
Patterns for recreating 16th and 17th century gloves. Tammie L. Dupuis has a very informative website detailing how to make 16th and 17th century gloves which she has titled: Demonstrations, accessories: Western European. Gloves. The Renaissance Tailor. Recreating 16th and 17th century clothing. http://www.renaissancetailor.com/demos_gloves.htm
In Part II which follows, the significance of gloves in human relations is brought to light. See Part 2 Here.
BIBLIOGRAPHY (PART I)
- Beck, S. William, F.R.H.S. (1969). Gloves, their annals and associations: a chapter of trade and social history. London: Singing Tree Press, Book Tower. First issued in 1883 by Hamilton, Adams & Co., London.
- Boucher, François (n.d.). 20,000 years of fashion. The history of costume and personal adornment. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
- Blumer, Herbert (1969). Symbolic interactionism: perspective and method. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
- Durant, Will (1953). The Renaissance. A history of civilization in Italy from 1304-1576 A.D., Part V. New York: Simon and Schuster.
- Evans, Mary, AM. (1938). Costume throughout the ages. Second Edition, Revised. Chicago: J.B. Lippincott Company.
- Gernsheim, Alison (1981). Victorian and Edwardian fashion. A photographic survey. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
- Hewitt, John P. (1979). Self and society: a symbolic interactionist social psychology. Second Edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc.
- Kybalova, Ludmila; Herbenova, Olga & Lamarova, Milena (1968). The pictorial encyclopedia of fashion. Translated by Claudia Rosoux. London: Paul Hamlyn.
- Laver, James (2002). Costume and fashion. A concise history. 4th Edition. New York: Thames & Hudson, Inc.
- Lester, Katherine Morris (1956). Historic couture. A resumé of the characteristic types of costume from the most remote times to the present day. Peoria, Illinois: Chas. A. Bennett Co., Inc. Publishers.
- McClellan, Elisabeth (1977). Historic dress in America, 1607-1870. Part I. New York: Arno Press.
- Rothstein, Natalie (1984). Four hundred years of fashion. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd.
- Sichel, Marion (1977). Tudors and Elizabethans. Costume Reference 2. London: B.T. Batsford.
- Tortora, Phyllis, G. & Eubank, Keith (2010). Survey of historic costume. A history of Western dress. Fifth Edition. New York: Fairchild Books.
- Aukland Star (1898). Gloves and their symbolism. Vol. XXIX, Issue 81, 6 April, 1898, p. 3. Paperpast. http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=AS18980406.2.20.8
- Larsdatter. Gloves and Mittens. Medieval & Renaissance material culture. There are numerous pictures of different breathtaking gloves. See for example, Gloves of Emperor Frederick II, 13th century. http://www.larsdatter.com/gloves.htm
- Redwood, Mike (2013). About gloves. http://www.mikeredwood.com/about_gloves
- Sacramento Daily Union (1898). Gloves and their symbolism. Vol. 94, No. 176, 14 February, 1898. California Digital Newspaper Collection. A freely accessible repository of digitized California newspapers from 1845 to the present. http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=SDU18980214.2.80&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN——
- Wrenne, Marianna (1986-2013). The King’s Glove. The glove website: how to make gloves. http://www.glove.org/gallery/mirianna.php
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