Throughout history, gloves have had both practical and ornamental functions. It goes without saying that gloves were used for holding hot or dangerous items to protect the hand, but gloves have also carried a more profound significance across a variety of historical contexts. Since there are so many different types of glove in existence (wheelchair, driving, sport etc.) we will focus our potted history on fashion gloves.
Gloves have usually been associated with wealth and the upper classes. The fact that they protected the wearer’s hand and kept delicate skin soft made them a symbol of luxury. As such, many historical examples of glove designs go to town on embroidery and detail. Russian aristocracy, for example, had their gloves embroidered with gold or silver threads with pearls and jewels deftly appliqued onto the fabric.
Traditionally, women have worn gloves to protect the beauty of their hands. This was the case in Ancient Egypt, where women were made to wear gloves to protect their hands while eating or working. Pharaohs would also wear gloves as a symbol of their high social status.
It was in the 12th century that gloves were considered a first rate accessory in women’s fashion. Gloves were worn by wealthy women and adorned with intricate embroidered designs.
Women’s gloves for formal and semi-formal wear after the 16th century typically came in three designs: matinee gloves that reach the wrist, elbow gloves and opera gloves that stretched to the upper arm. These were often made of satin or silk and worn for remarkable occasions such as a wedding, banquet or ball.
During the Victorian era, there was a trend in lace and fringed gloves. These intricate designs and materials would work to make the glove wearer seem feminine and graceful. These were desirable traits for women during this period, as conservativism prevailed, purity and elegance were sought after in women. Lace gloves would also complement dresses of the time, as lace was a big trend in Victorian women’s garments.
The fashion gloves that people today are most familiar with are the goat skin gloves worn by women during the former half of the 20th century. Fashion aficionados will have undoubtedly seen old Vogue covers where women pose in a pair of dark, leathery gloves, most likely framing their face with them.
Today, gloves are still a great addition to a more formal ensemble, carrying the same prestige as they have throughout history.