Gloves were invented for utilitarian purposes—to protect hands during an uncomfortable task, to keep them clean during meals, and to keep fingers warm. But being associated with cleanliness and protection, gloves quickly took on more symbolic meanings when worn by royalty and church officials. In the Middle Ages, priests wore elaborate gloves for ceremonies, while knights wore more practical leather gauntlets for falconry and riding.

In 12th-century Europe, gloves became an important part of proper dress. When greeting an authority, one was expected to remove the glove on one's right hand as a sign of respect. Gloves could also symbolize a pledge, be flung down as a challenge to a dual, and given by a lady as a sign of love or affection to a suitor.

During the Renaissance, women would don luxurious, intricately embroidered and perfumed gloves made of silk, linen, or kid leather. Queen Elizabeth I, it is said, was particularly vain about her delicate and shapely hands, and would flaunt them by taking gloves on and off or posing in gloved hands while she addressed her subjects. During her 16th-century reign, she accrued more than 2,000 pairs of gloves of every style imaginable—embroidered, jeweled, and fringed.

Thanks, in part, to her obsession, gloves became the height of fashion and London became the center of the glove trade, where craftsmen would journey to learn the secrets of glove-making.

But the French, too, loved gloves, particularly Napoleon Bonaparte and his Empress Josephine. Napoleon had at least 240 pairs of gloves. After the 19th century French Revolution, Josephine introduced a new look, the short-sleeved empire-waist gown paired with long, over-the-elbow “opera gloves.” Putting on a pair of 16-button opera-length gloves might take a lady as long as 30 minutes, employing glove stretchers, powder, button hooks, and a maid.

During Victorian times, gloves and fingerless mitts were a vital part of a well-dressed woman’s wardrobe. Gloves were always worn in public, and special gloves were donned for weddings and funerals. It was in this century that the French finally overshadowed the British in glove-making when master glover Xavier Jouvin devised a way to make universally proportioned and sized gloves.

The tradition of wearing gloves out and about carried well into the 20th century—they were an essential part of Christian Dior’s New Look of the 1950s. Thanks to Hollywood, the image of Audrey Hepburn in three-quarter length gloves in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” reinforced the glove as the icon of elegance, while Marilyn Monroe, in hot pink opera gloves and a strapless gown in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” made gloves sexy. However, during the 1970s, gloves largely lost their mystique and fell out of favor as a part of formal dress.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Anna Checcoli's homage to the beauty and art of hand fans ('ventagli,' in Italian). Use the left-hand nav to browse… [read review or visit site]

Dr. David Fleishman's comprehensive spectacles site (over 3500 images), in collaboration with museums around the wo… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique / Vintage Hermes Leather Designer Gloves Yellow With White Accent 7.5 Antique / Vintage Hermes Leather Designer Gloves Tortoise Ivory And Saddle RareGucci Very Long Black Leather Designer Gloves Extremely Rare To Find Size 8Antique / Vintage Hermes Leather Designer Gloves White Embroidery Accent 6.5 Women's Opera Gloves Black Leather Size 9Vtg/old School Oakley Factory Pilot Bmx Gloves From The 80's Excellent Cond. Vintage Christian Dior Soft Thin Leather Gloves Size 7Vintage Holubar Himalayan Leather Down Insulated Blue Mittens Size MediumVintage Ladies Floral Hankies Gloves Handkerchiefs Lot Hats Flower Bonnets RetroVintage Black Kid Leather Gloves 20" 61/2 Opera Italian Over Elbow MintLot 9 Pairs Ladies Woman's Vintage Gloves Dress Gown Opera Crocheted-nos- 1940's -lee Engineer's Special- Vintage Men's Railroad Work Uniform GlovesVintage Gray Leather Sport Driving Gloves Women’s Size MediumBeautiful Pr Art Deco Gloves~stylized Pointed Edges~beige W/dark Beige TrimAuthentic Vintage Retro 1950s Dawnelle Black Felt & Red Leather Ladies Gloves Vintage White Faux Fur Winter Muff Hands Gloves Mittens Excellent Condition!Italian Taupe Leather Driving Gloves - Size Small - From 1970s - Vintage1970s Aigner Burgundy Cuffed Knit Gloves, Vinyl Palm/back One Size, Brass A, EucAwesome Set Antique Button Glove Hook W/sterling Silver Handle + Needle Case Vintage 1920's Black Leather Snap Wrist Opera Length Gloves 6 1/4Vintage Pair Of Lamb Skin Leather Silk Lined Women Opera Length Gloves Size 6.5Very Nice Antique/vintage Button Hook Glove Hook W/marbled Bakelite HandleHuge Lot 65 + Pairs Of Ladies Womens Vintage Gloves Opera Cotton Leather ChiffonWhite Kid Buttoned Opera Gloves, France- Lionel Le Grand- Size 6 1/2Ladies Vintage Full Length Black Kid Leather Gloves Carson Pirie ScottLadies Vintage Black Pigskin Leather Rabbit Fur Lined GlovesShirley Temple Leather Gloves Size 5Vtg Ladies Leather Gloves,22 1/2" Long,size 6 1/2",made In Italy,100% Nylon LinnVintage Ladies Evening Gloves1930's Purse With Hair Comb Powder Compact Gloves Hankerchief Vintage Hansen Gloves White With Red Polka Dots Old Stock New With Tags 6 1/2Vintage Black Ladies Kid Leather Opera Gloves Made In West Germany (size 7?)Vintage Crescendoe Opera Gloves White 3 Faux Pearl Buttons Size 7? /23 1/2" LongVintage & Retro Lot Womens Gloves & Scarves, Bill Blass, Chiffon, Italy & MoreVintage Ivory Medium Length Gloves W/ Stitching Design Womens Size MediumVintage Barra Gloves Made In Italy Sz 7Ladies Vintage Full Length Black Leather Gloves Viola WeinbergerVtg Handcrafted Icelandic Newari Wool Gloves And Purse Nos TagsVintage Leather Driving Gloves Size 7Vintage Wear Right Black Opera Ladies Gloves Size 6.5Vintage Crocheted Gloves Antique Hand Crocheted Ecru Women's Brown Suede Leather Gloves Lined Ladies Medium Never Worn W. Tag Lot Of 3/vintage Ladies Driving Gloves3 Pair Of Vintage Gloves Women White Blue Retro Vintage Pair Of Women's Black Leather Gloves Size 8Nwt Vintage Ladies Winter Gray Aris Thermal Insulated Acrylic Gloves1950s Short Dress Gloves2 Pair Vintage Enchante` Fownes Antron Nylon Short Gloves New Old Stock NwtagsWomen's Vintage Long Leather Gloves For Winter, Fully-lined With Fur, Fits 6.5Light Beige Womens Leather Driving Gloves - Small - Never WornVintage Saks Fifth Avenue Ladies White Calfskin Gloves With Tags Made In France Vintage Ladies Sheer Gloves Off White/cream Color-size 8 Made In JapanVintage Ivory Crocheted Lace Gloves 8"Vtg. Woman’s Beige Sueded Nylon Gloves Detailed With Embroidery ~size B ~ NewLot Of 5 Pair Vintage Ladies GlovesVintage Van Raalte Black Gloves Size 7-1/2 Nylon 2 Pair Of Vintage Woman's Gloves Purple And Sheer StripedNew With Tag Vintage Olive Green Long Gloves Marvelfit By Wear-right 11 InchVintage Kay Fuchs Ladies Gloves -- Size 7Vintage Kislav Kidskin Gloves Size 7