Gloves are coverings for the hands. Modern gloves are made with separate sheaths for each finger and the thumb. Gloves have been worn for both cold weather and for formal occassions as well as for a variety of specialized reasons. Gloves were once seen, for example, as a symbol og gentility. There were clear rules of ettiquette established for men and women wearing gloves. HBC can find few references to boys using gloves, presumably becaise they were less involved in the formal affairs which men attended. The rules for men, however, shed some light on the conventions also applying for boys. Today gloves are mostly worn for cold weather as the convention of gloves for formal wear has generally died out.
There are a variety of expressions associated with gloves, giving an idea that gloves were once much more important than is th case today. "Throwing doen the gauntlet" meant to challenge some one, theoretically to a duel. A gauntlet was a mailed glove or a heavy glove with an extended cuff. Another expression was "to take off the gloves". Gloves were the symbol of a gentleman, thus to take off the gloves meant to end gentlemanly restraint and persue a dispute with vigor.
We do not have a detailed chronology of gloves. As far as we can determine, the Victorians began wearing gloves to a greater extent than ever before. Many conventions for wearing gloves date from the Vicyotrian period. The Victorians and Edwardians that followed them would wear gloves for virtually any occasions. Gloves rather went out of fashion for formal wear at weddings, formal parties and dancesin America after World War I (1914-18), but the fashion was somewhat resurrected during the 1930s and 40s. Gloves other than for cold weather are rarely seen anymore. One fashion expert writes, "The pristine pair of gloves, once the symbol of gentility, has unfortunately turned into --the symbol of gentility. It is gentility itself that has gone out of fashion." [Martin]
Social class was a primary factor affecting glove wearing. The higher up the social ladder you were, ther the more likely it was that you would possess a pair of gloves for variious social functiions and woukld wear them. These was especially the case of outdoor events as a gentekeman would normally remove his gloves when calling upon someone. Thelower one moved down the social ladder, the less likely one was to have gloves for different occassions and the morte likely that they would be weorn primarily for cold weather.
"A gentelman," according to a 19th century book explaining formal etiquette "is known by his gloves." This is no longer the case. Even in a mid-20th century edition of Amy Vanderbilt's New Complete Book of Etiquette, there is only a modest injunction that well dressed men without gloves may find their hands "roughened and chapped". [Vanderbilt, p. 150.] While women might wear long gloves, men have prinaily worn short gloves to the wrist. The one exception here are protective leather gauntletts. Gloves came in many different styles, materials, and colors, depending on personal taste and purpose. There were Victorians who change their gloves several times a day. Count Alfred D'Orsay, for example, was said to have worn six pairs of gloves daily. There were reindeer gloves (morning ride), chamois gloves (hunting), beaver gloves (ride back to London), braided kid gloves (afternoon shopping), yellow dog skin (dinner party), lambskin embroidered with silk (evening ball). This was of course the extreme, but many aflluent Victorians did have several pair of gloves. Most would have kid gloves (evening ball), light cotton or lawn gloves (summer social events), and manly buckskin or elegant kid gloves (everyday use). [Keers, p. 94.] White gloves would be worn for balls and other social occasions. No Victorian genteleman would have thought of going to church or the theater with out a pair of gloves. Some gentelman removed their gloves before shaking hands, but many ertiquitte books dismissed this as an act of barbarity. Kitted gloves appeared in the late 19th century, but have never been accepted as proper formal or businesswear. High quality gloves are still finished with three lines of pointing on the back. This first appeared in the 1780 and was a vestage of the embroidery common on 18th century gloves. [Keers, p. 94.] European men wear gloves wit h their white tie formal wear more commonly than Americans. American men today primarily wear gloves at weddings as a fashion statement. Perhaps the men most famous for wearing white gloves in the modern world are Japanese politicans during election campaigns.
Generally wealthy people war leather gloves. More humble families might buy wollen mittens, glove-like coverings without separate finger sheaths, for the children. Mittens are often depicted as child-like garments. Actually mittens are much more effective for cold weather than gloves. Artic explorers, for example, always wore mittens rather than gloves. Mittens are in fact warmer. The fingers in mittens are in contact and this help to retain heat. When individually sheathed, the fingers are more in contact with the cold weather outside the glove.
Gloves were once commonly worn for formal occassions like weddings or other events in which boys dressed up like First Communion. There wee substantial differences from country to country. We note that many French boys wore white gloves for First Communion, but few German boys. Today gloves are mostly worn for cold weather as the convention of gloves for formal wear has generally died out. Formal gloves were often white, although dark gloves were also worn. The white gloves were fabric. The dark gloves were also sometimes fabric, but might also be made of leather. There was a proscribed etiqute concerning the wearing of gloves. These differed somewhat for boys and girls. A French reader tells us, "In the 20th century white gloves for children were considered a symbol of innocence and purity. Boys might wear white gloves during a procession (wedding, communion, ect.). They were to be worn outside, a polite boy was expected to take his gloves off when entering a home, in which case he would hold them in his hand. They could be worn for prayer at in church." HBC has noted Irish dancers wearing white gloves in parades as late as the early 1980s. They were once common at wedings and are still occassionally seen. Adult men might wear colored, especially grey cloth gloves. The children in the wedding party, espcially the ring bearer would wear white gloves. At modern weddings, however, the ring bearer rarely wears white gloves.
Gloves have not normally been an item of school uniform, although some British girl's school required them, especially in the 19th century and eraly 20th century. A former pupil at St. Paul's Girl's Schools in the 1890s recalls receiving an "order mark" if seen arriving without gloves. [Davidson, p. 87] This continued at some schools well into the 20th century. A student at Sacred Heart Convent in Hammarsmith recalls being rebuked for being a disgrace to the school when caught by a teacher on a bus in the morning without her gloves on. [Davidson, p. 81]
We have noted that Scouts and other youth groups sometimes wear white gloves for formal occassions and processions. This presumably is a relection of military formal dress. This practice appears most pronounced in France.
There are a number of specialized types of gloves. Boxing gloves are one such example. They were once commonly used in school sports in Britain, the United States and other countries. Every American boy of course has played the National Passtime with a baseball glove. We notecan increasing use of gloves in sports, both in golf, soccer (the goalie), amd baseball (the batter). Trends in professional sports are often picked up on by children and teenagers playing the sports.
Girls continued wearing white gloves for formal wear longer than boys. Girls continued wearing white gloves for church and formal occassions into the 1960s. Girls today can hardly believe that white gloves were once rather common. A fashion expert points out, "To this very day, horrified young ladies ask older ones, 'Didn't they use to make you wear little white gloves?" [Martin]
Davidson, Alexander. Blazers, Badges, and Boaters: A Pictorial History of School Uniform (Scope Books: Horndean, 1990).
Keers, Paul. A Gentleman's Wardrobe: Classic Clothes and the Modern Man (Harmony Books: New York, 1987).
Martin, Judith. "Miss Manners," Washington Post, June 22, 2003, p. D3.
Vanderbuilt, Amy. Amy Vanderbilt's New Complete Book of Etiquette (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1963).
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