Sunday, March 22, 2015

Where did gloves go?

By Marilyn Turk

Easter is approaching, and as it does, my mind drifts back to memories of Easters past. The celebration of Christ’s resurrection has always been a special day in my family. It was a day of new life, with creation joining the celebration as flowers burst forth in color and trees sprouted new greenery.

Everything dressed up, and so did we. As a little girl, I wore my new Easter dress with my Easter bonnet and white lace-trimmed gloves. An interesting story on this tradition is in Ace Collins' Stories Behind the Traditions and Songs of Easter.

Even now, many years later, I try to wear something special for the occasion – new or not – but fitting for a day of springtime renewal. I even started wearing a hat again. But gloves? I quit wearing them years ago. When did gloves, other than for cold weather, quit being part of our attire?

While researching fashion in the 1880’s to make sure I appropriately dress women in the book I’m writing, I learned that gloves were a standard accessory. No lady would leave her house without her hat and gloves.

But the tradition of glove-wearing goes back as far as the Egyptian pyramids. By the 1100s companies of glovers were formed, and by the 1300’s, the occupation was big business in Europe.

Sturdy leather gloves were worn by laborers, knights and falconers, but fashionable gloves became popular by the upper class who demanded they be made of finer leathers such as doeskin and kid. These gloves were often beautifully fringed and edged, and could be richly embroidered with gold or colorful silk threads and sometimes adorned with jewels.

Between 1500 and 1700, very thin chicken skin gloves were popular with refined women who wore them at night to keep their hands soft. The practice of wearing lotion-lined gloves at night was also common among gentlemen.

Fabric gloves fashioned from silk, satin, velvet, cotton, and linen gained approval, and gloves knitted from thread and cotton appeared around the 1600s. In the mid-1800s, jean, sateen, and taffeta gloves were introduced.

Beginning with the 1950s, nylon gloves knitted in a variety of thicknesses, textures, and colors became trendy, as well as, naugahyde gloves made from vinyl-coated fabric to imitate leather.

Scented gloves, perfumed gloves, or sweet gloves, as they were called, were first worn by women and men in the royal courts before the demand for them extended to lower classes.These gloves were very popular throughout Europe until the late 1700s.

Spain introduced gloves scented with violet powder, and Italy and France eventually became recognized for their perfumed gloves. Elegant gloves produced in France came in different styles, and each style was named after the perfume with which it was scented. All types of herbs, cedar wood, myrtle, flowers, and drugs were used, singly and in combination, to give gloves a desirable odorous quality.

Glove styles over the centuries have included the short, mid-length, and long buttoned gloves. There were also fingerless gloves and gauntlets.

In Victorian times, gloves had their own “language” in social interaction.

Biting the tips - "I wish to be rid of you very soon!"
Clenching them, rolled up in right hand - "No!"
Drawing halfway on left hand - indifference
Dropping both of them - "I love you"
Dropping one of them - "Yes"
Folding up carefully - "Get rid of your company"
Holding the tips downward - "I wish to be acquainted"
Holding them loose in the right hand - "I am content"
Holding them loose in the left hand - "I am satisfied"
Left hand with the naked thumb exposed - "Do you love me?"
Putting them away - "I am vexed!"
Right hand with the naked thumb exposed - "Kiss me"
Smoothing them out gently _ "I am displeased"
Striking them over the shoulder - "Follow me"
Tapping the chin - "I love another"
Tossing them up gently - "I am engaged"
Turning them inside out - "I hate you!"
Twisting them around the fingers - "Be careful, we are watched!"
Using them as a fan - "Introduce me to your company".

So, do you think gloves should make a comeback?

Vintage Spanish lace wedding gloves

A multi-published author, Marilyn Turk lives in and writes about the coastal South, particularly about its history. Her fascination for lighthouses spawned her popular weekly lighthouse blog, and inspired the stories in her upcoming Coastal Lights Legacy series and her Lighthouse Devotions book. 


  1. I'm a Daughter of the American Revolution, and we are required to wear white gloves for certain events. I always feel special wearing them. They also protect our hands from sun damage. Yes-bring them back.

    1. Rebecca, I'd love to see your DAR attire. In my research, I discovered that steam punk fans wear glove with the tips off.

  2. I have lace gloves that were handed down to me. I would love if we could bring them back to fashion.

    I actually didn't know they were around such a long time ago.

    1. Grace, wear your lace gloves and bring them back!

  3. Chicken skin gloves? That has me shuddering. I probably wouldn't wear gloves even if they came back in style. The temperatures where I live is too hot for that, most of the year.

    1. Vickie, yes, I thought about the chicken skin gloves and wondered if they ate chicken skin too.

  4. Thanks for the fascinating post, Marilyn. I learned some new things about gloves. I hadn't realized scenting them was popular at one point.

    I feel for the Victorian gentlemen who had to learn the language of the gloves. I can imagine a fellow asking himself, "Now, which exposed thumb was it that meant my ladylove would welcome a kiss?"

    I've wondered at times how much disease was prevented in the past by the wearing of gloves. I've heard of cultures that don't shake hands because of the potential for sharing germs.

    1. You're right, Keli. It would take quite a bit of memory to remember the right signal to use.
      And you know, the health care industry wears gloves to protect against germs, so there's a good reason for everyone to wear gloves too.

  5. The secret code for gloves is quite interesting. Wonder if the gentlemen memorized it. An interesting post. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. Thanks, Sharon. Yes, I think you'd have to have a good memory to learn all those signals.

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  7. HI Marilyn, coming in late, but just wanted to thank you for the interesting post on gloves! I remember wearing gloves as a child, especially on Easter.