Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Glove on the Hand

I remember the first time I saw the movie, “Age of Innocence”, two scenes stood out. The first one was at the ball, when the men brought multiple pairs of their gloves which they would change out whenever they changed dance partners. Talk about obsessive. And not a smidge of H1N1 in sight.

The other scene is quite famous (or is it infamous?) It’s the scene when Michelle Pfeiffer’s and Daniel Day-Lewis’ characters are in a carriage. The sexual tension between the two fuels the entire story, and in the carriage, Daniel (as Newland Archer) goes crazy and unbuttons Michelle’s (Ellen's) glove in order to kiss the only inch of skin not covered in her Gilded Age garb. It was one of the most sensuous scenes I’ve ever seen. My husband (who by this time was wondering why he'd ever agreed to go to the movie with me) thought it was ridiculous. I won’t go any further with a discussion of what men and women consider romantic, but I will say that movie got me interested in the history of gloves.

Nowadays, if we aren’t debutantes or royalty, we only wear gloves when it’s freezing outside, so I don’t have much personal experience, although I do remember wearing white gloves with my Easter outfits in the 1960’s, and feeling quite spiffy.

Obviously, gloves have been around for centuries, but they really became a part of fashion in the 1700’s, when over-the-elbow gloves came in vogue. When Napoleon’s Josephine (who wore them because she didn’t like her hands) wore them long enough to reach the puff in her short sleeves, long gloves swept the empire. Here’s another empress, the Austrian Empress Sissi in her gloves circa 1854.

By the end of the 1800's, women’s everyday clothes tended to cover most of the arm, so wrist length gloves became popular—except for evening, of course, when dresses showed off the arms. To ease getting into the long gloves, a slit was added, and the opening was closed with three or four buttons. Snaps became vogue in the late 1890’s. But putting those long gloves on was a chore and often required a buttonhook, and as such it was not proper to put them on in public. You put them on and kept them on until you went home. Actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Lillian Russell added to the craze.

Actress Sarah Bernhardt
 Have you ever tried to do anything with gloves on? It’s difficult. But women found a way around the problem by slipping their hands out of the finger-part, and popped them out the opening.

Drinking tea outside the glove

Although gloves at the beginning of the 19th century came in a multitude of colors, during Victorian times white and ivory were it—black being too flashy. Gloves were so much a part of a woman’s identity that many women asked to be buried in their gloves.

 During my growing up years I remember Grace Kelly wearing gloves in "Rear Window", Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany’s", and of course the fashion icon, Jackie Kennedy. Women wore gloves to church, out shopping, and certainly to bridge club. My mother was one of these women. I always associate gloves with elegance and class.
Considering the world could use a healthy dose of both, perhaps I should start a trend.


  1. Hi Nancy:

    You wrote:

    “I do remember wearing white gloves with my Easter outfits in the 1960’s, and feeling quite spiffy.”

    This makes me think of fashion as a factor of how wearing it makes a woman feel. (And not just how she looks.)

    Some fashion hides defects while other fashions accentuate positive features. (Gloves hide dishpan hands.)

    This makes me think there could be simultaneous counter trends in fashion. Can you remember: when the mini-skirt was popular (great if you had great legs) was there also a fashion that covered the legs (like pant suits) or at least muted the legs and emphasized the top area?

    I’m not sure that it is true that women are slaves to fashion. Fashion may be a slave to the whims of women. Both are certainly changeable.

    “Chicken or egg”?


  2. I really enjoyed this post because I love anything that has to do with fashion through the ages. I do find the use of gloves fascinating and the fact that they just aren't used anymore to accentuate a woman's ensemble. It's kind of like hats for men. Rarely do you see men, nowadays, looking dapper in a suit with a hat. *sigh* Wouldn't it be nice if some fashion trends just returned?

  3. Vince, you brought up some interesting points. And there were counter-fashion trends. During the mini-skirt trend, there were also maxi and midi skirts (floor and mid-calf lengths). But all three were changes from the previous knee-length. It's as if during that point in fashion history manufacturers wanted to make sure everyone changed their hemlines, so they provided something-for-everyone. Since then, hemlines have been far more the wearer's choice, as if some invisible barrier had been broken.

    "This makes me think of fashion as a factor of how wearing it makes a woman feel. (And not just how she looks.)" Absolutely. Yet a large part of how the wearer feels involves whether or not he/she feels they are "in fashion". I remember feeling pretty wearing granny dresses in the 70's AND when I wore the huge shoulder padded suits of the 80's. When I put those same clothes on today, I do NOT feel pretty because they're not in style. To wear them would brand me s behind-the-times. It's human nature to want to fit in. Fashion is very much a part of our self-image.

  4. Hi, Mary Mary. I'd love to see some trends return--and I'd like others to stay far far away! But how is a trend revived? Can a group of ladies decide they're going to wear gloves and it catches on? Think of capri pants. Audrey Hepburn and Sandra Dee helped make them popular in the 50's but the style wasn't revived until ffty years later. Now, as in the case of skirt length, it seems some barrier has been broken and any length of pant goes.

    It's obvious movies and TV have a huge influence on changing fashion. If we want gloves or men's hats to be back in style, we need some movie star to wear them in a blockbuster movie!

  5. Hi Nancy:

    Talking about styles coming back, I’d love to see the 1890’s look on women.

    But I wonder: did any of the women in the 1890’s really look as beautiful in their fashions as the women on the covers of:

    “Love on Assignment”, by Cara Lynn James or “Making Waves” by Lorna Seilstad ?

    I just love this look. Do you think men have any say in women’s fashions? I’ve heard that women dress for other women and not men.


  6. Of cures we dress for men. Although sometimes i do want to show of an outfit to my friends, in a good way, so u could say i dress for them. But for the majority of the time i'm dressing for my guy's attention.
    I think that the reason that we hear, "women dress for other women and not for men" is because it's a lot easier to please a men then a women. So once we have the women's attention then we feel like a 10+