When Ladies Wore Gloves...Everywhere

Tuesday, May 01, 2018
Image via Retromusings
A good friend recently returned from a business trip, only to get struck down with some kind of bug or virus the day after. My initial thought was, "If only we were living in the 1950s this may not have happened."

That's because there was a time when women wore gloves everywhere, even during the warmer months and while traveling; hence, there was a little bit of added protection against picking up a cold or flu virus.

Needless to say, someone walking around today constantly wearing gloves -- especially during the summer  -- would be seen as a little cuckoo. But during the 1940s and '50s, gloves were an important fashion accessory for women. They weren't just sported on Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's but at parties, shops, church, job interviews, the theater, and other places.

In fact, the trend didn't completely die off in some parts of the world after the 1950s -- I found the following comment on Quora speaking about ladies and gloves in the UK:

The practice of smart, conservative women routinely wearing gloves in public was common in my part of England up to the 1970s, and had not completely vanished in the mid 1980s. They were regarding as an essential part of a well groomed woman’s engagement with the outside world. My wife, born in 1955, had a pair of gloves for every outfit - long gloves for evenings and concerts, leather gloves to go with country tweeds, nylon for town suits, and short white cotton gloves to go with summer dresses. These were not absolute rules, and they were for show rather than for warmth. Gloves were usually matched with hats, handbags and footwear, but white was a safe default option. On leaving the house, a lady slipped on her gloves as routinely as her outdoor shoes. 

The history of gloves, of course, stretches much farther back than the decade of rock and roll and poodle skirts. Something I recently learned is that scented gloves -- perfumed with flower and herbal essences -- were popular in Europe during the 1600s and 1700s (hey, anything to cover up the stench of body odor.) By the 1950s, however, they were available and worn in an array of colors and styles to suit any outfit and setting.

I found the following brochure on glove etiquette at the site Retrowaste. It was produced by a company called Paris Gloves, a Canadian company founded in 1939 which is still in business today. Note that it says gloves should stay on when shaking hands -- a good way to deter unwanted germs.

Ah, there seems to be so many rules here. For example:

Gloves must always be removed before eating, drinking, smoking, playing cards or putting on makeup.

When lunching in a restaurant, a lady removes her coat but keeps on her hat and gloves, removing her gloves when seated at the table.

At dances, long gloves would be part of a lady’s ensemble and as such, kept on. The glove fingers should be tucked into the opening at the wrist while smoking or drinking, and the gloves removed entirely immediately upon sitting at the table.

When gloves are worn merely as a covering for the hands (such as heavy winter gloves), they should be removed with the coat.

It seems obvious that daytime gloves as an accessory fell out of practice due to the inconvenience of them (you leave them on when sitting down at a table, but then take them off when the food arrives...ah, such confusion) as well as changing social norms and clothing styles as we headed into the swinging 1960s. Still, that didn't stop Emma Peel from sporting them once in a while...

So maybe they're impractical and unusual by today's standards (no one can text or swipe with them unless the gloves were designed for mobile device usage), but it is fun to look at advertisements and images from when they were used to complete a woman's ensemble. I also leave you with this parting comment from the same gentleman who answered someone's question on Quora about why they fell out of fashion:

Why do customs, fashions and traditions fall from favour? Who knows -- I guess things just reach a point where there is more kudos in ignoring them than in observing them. It does seem a shame, however, that a whole generation of young men have grown up without experiencing the ineffable pleasure of helping fasten the mousquetiere buttons on the wrist of a lady’s opera glove.

The following 1950s and 1960s Van Raalte glove advertisements were posted on Retromusings:


  1. How odd that nowadays the only people who wear "gloves" are medics and doctors. Think of all the wasted latex that clogs the oceans because of world overpopulation and disease. It's really obscene. However, since gloves aren't in fashion for men or women anymore, since winters are now globally warmed, the PETA people won't have to worry about leather or fur being used. Of course, a pair of Joan Crawford style gloves would go well with a nice mink coat....

    1. "since winters are now globally warmed"...try telling that to my fellow New Englanders; it was a very bitter and especially brutal winter that seems to have only recently ended a week or two ago! I do wear gloves from late autumn through early April. My mother also gave me an extra pair of black leather gloves (lined with thinsulate) and I have to say I really like how they look and feel...you feel sexy wearing them which you just can't get from wool or fleece. :)

  2. In the 50s a gal wouldn't be seen in public without gloves. Now it's piercings - not a change for the better.

    1. I couldn't agree more.

    2. I also agree.. wish the hands of time would be rolled back and froze in time. that was the era of class instead of a face full of piercings.

  3. Interesting. I would like to see a trend to high fashion instead of everyone of both sexes wearing t-shirts and jeans for most occasions. Not bloody likely though.

    1. "Twould be nice, but keep dreaming. As my grandpa used to say, "them days are gone." If a man even wears an ordinary business suit, he's looked upon as being an elitist or lawyer. If a lady wears a dress, she's a freak of nature these days.

    2. Sorry, I'm a 45 year old woman and if I can avoid it, I will NEVER wear high heels again, and frankly unless I'm going to a wedding or funeral, I'm probably not going to be wearing dresses or skirts anymore... even when I was a girl, I never felt comfortable in dresses, I always get all paranoid and feel like someone's trying to look up there, I felt half-naked. I'm more comfortable in pants and jeans and a pair of FLAT shoes. Deal with it! It doesn't make me less of a woman. Who decided women were supposed to wear skirts anyway, some pervert who wanted easier access to my uh, parts?

    3. That's okay. If you want to keep thinking you'll gain equality by dressing like men and not realizing that men and women are different, that's your choice. No wonder the world is so hysterical these days, if you think that men are trying to only look up women's dresses. Hah! As a man I take offense to your reverse sexism. High heels are not good for the body, but why are dresses villified? Wear a chastity belt if you're so afraid!

  4. I was love watching What's My Line on You Tube and Dorthy Killgallen wore gloves every week until 1964.


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