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 Chanel Leather Gloves Black White In Good Condition Size # 7 Vintage White Kid Leather Gloves Italy Size 7.5 21 1/2" Long 3 Button Never Worn33 Vintage Opera Dress Gloves Lot,leather,lace,kid,france,frances Yeend EstateLot Of 18 Vintage Ladies Opera Pinup Leather Beaded Short GlovesAntique Vintage Purse Lot Hats Velvet Beaded Gloves LeatherWomen's Vintage Gold Clutch With Matching Gold GlovesHuge Vintage Glove Lot 16 Pairs Bridal, Leather, Driving, Opera, Leather, LaceLadies Vintage Fur And Leather Gloves In Original BoxTwo Pairs Of Vintage 1960s Deadstock Womens White Gloves / Nwt / Lot 16 Vintage Opera Gloves Wedding Formal Leather Nylon New And UsedLot Of 6 Vintage 1940's/1950's Ladies Kid/leather/suede Gloves/3 French/1 MagninVintage Womans Burnt Orange Suede Lizden Leather Gloves /m Vintage Unlined Bonwit Teller Long Black Leather Gloves France 6-1/2Vintage 15" Leather Ladies Gloves - Blk (size 8)Estate "i Love Lucy" Style Dress Gloves Beaded Rosettes Eyelet & Vtg Box Lot 3!Vintage 1960's Red Dress Gloves 12 Inches Cotton Vintage White Sheer With Ruffle Gloves - Made In Usa, 100% NylonHuge Lot Of 34 Pair Of Vtg. Ladies Gloves Various Lengths Colors MaterialVintage Ladies Women's Gloves, Lot Of 3 Pairs, Leather Suede Cotton KidLot 35 Pair Vintage Ladies Gloves With Vintage Glove Etiquette BookletVintage Women's Black Long Gloves~ Tagged Van Raalte Nylon Size 6 1/2Vtg Black Opera Gloves By Leather-spun - 22" Long-passed The Elbow - All NylonWomens Vintage White Long Gloves- Silk Like Feeling-3 Button Closure- PrettyLovely Ladies Vintage Gloves Lot Of 4 Pr Ecru And White, Incl. ShalimrVintage Pink Lace "half" - Fingerless - Gloves -Vintage Ladies Gloves - Lot Of 4 PairGrey Madova Italian Leather Gloves - Size 6 1/27 Pair 1950s Vtg Lot Long Kid Gloves Nos Never Worn Authentic Loewe Spain Sz 6.5Vintage Black Opera Length Ladies Kid Leather ? Gloves Buttons Missing 1 Button Vintage Isotoner Aris Burgundy Dress Leather Antron Lined Gloves NwotAntique Women's Riding Gloves, Handmade And Glass Beaded...Crochet Dress Gloves Sz M/l Vintage 1940s Ivory Cotton Thread Nwot #249Vintage French Kid Leather Dark Brown Elbow Gloves 18" Size 7Vintage Womens Glove Lot Of 13Vtg Leather Ladies Black Gloves Sz 7 Made In France For Marshall FieldUnused Vntg Pair Long Ladies Gloves W~*crystal Beadwork Crescendoe Wonder FabricVintage Black Satin Gloves With Rinestone ButtonsGloves, Leather, Cloth, LadiesVintage Ladies Wrist Pink Dress /evening/party /opera/prom Gloves 6-7Vintage Leather Driving Gloves Size Med Made In HollandVintage Gloves Sheer Black Ruffled Nylon Delicate Ladies Womens Vintage 1960's Gold Lame Long Opera/evening Formal GlovesVintage Women's Dress GlovesVintage Dark Blue Real Kid Silk-lined Leather Gloves - Size 6.5 - Made In FranceVintage Red Leather GlovesVintage Gloves 10 Pairs Nylon+mesh Gloves And 1 Black Mesh Fingerless Arm GloveLot Of 7 Vintage Glove Kid Leather Elbow Length Vintage Hand Made Crochet Ladies GlovesBeautiful Vintage Crocheted Ecru Gloves With RosesWomens Vintage Blue Leather Fancy Unbranded Wrist Gloves Vintage Van Raalt'e Leather Gloves L Cobolt Blue Women's Vintage Pink Women's Nylon Gloves One Sz By Van RaalteLadies Crochet Gloves Honey Comb VintageVintage Women's Kid Leather Gloves Dark Gray 12" Long Size 7Women's Vintage Yellow Clutch With Matching Gloves21"white Kid Leather Opera Gloves 3 Button Gently Worn VintageWomen's Vintage Off White GlovesVintage Red Ladies Long Length Kid Leather Gloves Vintage 17" Long Soft White Leather Women's Opera / Evening Gloves Vtg Cotton Navy Wrist Women Gloves 7.5