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. Piercings all over, tattoos all over, obese uglies crammed into those hideous yoga pants - will this anti-fashion bullshit ever stop? Men-boys with dirty ballcaps that never come off the noggin, obscenity everywhere. A culture of third generation morons that dresses like ragamuffins of the 19th century. All in the name of american consumerism and instant gratification.

  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. Seriously? Wearing pants is dressing like a man? Hardly. It is more comfortable and practical. Wear a chastity belt if you are so afraid? Even less practical. If you are such a fan of dresses, YOU wear them. Men should wear what they feel best in, and same for women.

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

  5. Wasn't she killed or "died" in 1964? Well, I grew up in the 50's and 60's and I have lived both sides of the issue. Several of my friends and I were talking about it a few weeks ago and even we think that it all has gotten WAY TOO casual, or just plain sloppy! One thing that is so noticeable to my friends and I is how heavy Americans are getting and I think a lot of it is because we are wearing unaccountable clothing! Elastic in pants and shorts, and in skirts if any girls and women are wearing them...means that they be 3 or 4 sizes up and down and your body can expand with them. Think of the past and when we all dressed up for Holiday Dinners. Remember how you felt if you ate too much? That belt, or waistband or girdle was pretty UNFORGIVING! It hurt! No doing that the second day! Now, this May 2020 in America, or through out the whole World...I HOPE that we have the extra time to take stock of how we look and maybe decide it is time to start dressing better and maybe even eating and drinking less junk, to look and feel better and be healthier.

  6. I always loved when the old women in the bus or at the supermarket wore their old, fine gloves. I literally died in envy because the stuff you can buy today is soooo bad in quality and look just cheap. So I had the "brilliant" idea of checking eBay, and nothing was looking like I want to wear. Until one day I found a pair of old, black leather gloves that made my heartbeat go faster by the mere product images: Beautiful length (27cm/11 inches), far over the wrist, opening up very wide at the entry, timelessly beautiful. I ordered them for a mere 10EUR. What I received are probably the best pair of gloves in my life - Perfect fit, very noble visually, lined with one of the best silk-like fabrics and made of such a heavenly tender leather it makes you go "Wow" upon touch.. I just gently put both index fingers on each glove and it was a godly feel of black, soft leather on my fingertips!

    I wear them whenever I can. And it works, even at warmer days. These gloves are a hybrid of indoor/outdoor gloves, meaning that I can easily wear them in both settings - which is amazing. If there is something like an addiction for gloves, then I have it now. But once you have worn such fine gloves yourself, you might understand. I can fully see how the ladies back then were wearing them troughout the day, because it is really a fantastic thing!

    Everything about it:

    The style of my fingers, hands and wrist being clad in black, soft leather is something adding distance and being inviting at the same time. Whatever I do, the gloves follow me due to their supple leather, wrinkling and crinkling up deeply or stretch when needed. It looks fantastic e.g. at grocery shopping when picking up items while I wear these visibly vintage leather gloves.

    The haptics are almost like I wear nothing. They fit tightly at the fingers, so picking up coins or pages of a magazine is possible. I don't need to unglove my hands the whole day out. I literally glide into them when I leave the house, keep them on for 3, 4 hours straight and glide out of them later. And yes, I write "glide" because the lining is so smooth and fantastic I do not need to pull anything (except it became a bit too warm and the thin layer of sweat on my hands makes the lining stick the gloves tightly to my skin). The protection of my hands and wrist is a fantastic feeling: No cold metal or warm cups (I wore them at a Café). It's like a safe environment. Fantastic!

    The gloves I wear are several decades old and belonged to an elderly gentlewoman before. The quality, the soft leather and comfortable lining is something you can't buy anymore - no wonder why gloves are not worn like written in the article anymore. But this particular pair I wear is an absolute blast. I feel naked without them and thus I keep them on while e.g. being in a Café. It looks sophisticated and great when I grab the spoon with my left fingers clad in black leather while my entire right hand holds the cup; the soft leather of the glove wrinkling around the cup. I wish I could showcase what I mean, but looking "vintage noble" is really easy.

    If you want to try, buy vintage gloves. You will understand this article much more if you have "real" ones from that era. The quality difference to today's gloves is extreme! When I touch my vintage gloves, I literally sink into such a heavenly tender leather it's breathtaking! Riding along the whole 27cm is an experience - I feel the extreme softness of the leather on each fingertip. A gentle brush with my fingers or touching something and the black leather wrinkles up deeply.. That dynamic is great, haptically and visually! The lining is one of the most comfortable materials that make you keep them on. And the looks of such luxury gloves made of such a super soft leather is getting me stares! (Of envy)

    I really encourage you on wearing gloves during your daily tasks. It's a forgotten luxury.


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