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    

Large Job Lot Of Vintage Gloves 20s 30s 50s 60s 70s 80s Net Leather Etc. Vintage Women's Italian Brown Leather Lined Gloves 13 1/2" Long Size 8 UnwornLarge Job Lot Of Vintage Gloves 50s 60s 70s Etc Mostly Size 7Vtg Leather 'christian Dior' Elbow Length Gloves /tag - Nos - Sz. 7Lot Of 9 Vintage Ladies Hats & 3 Pair Vintage Ladies GlovesVintage Women's Soft Buttery Black Leather Elbow Length Gloves Size 8 UnwornVintage Genuine Kid Leather Ladies Gloves In Butterscotch Brown 15" LongVintage 16" Leather Ladies Gloves - White/cream (size 8)Vintage Women Gloves Soft Leather - Real Leopard Skin /fur Size 7 Never WornCostume Vintage Long Leather Black Gloves Sz 6.5Vintage Blue Leather Ladies Gloves *long*Vtg Sz 7 Long Black Leather Ladies Kidskin Washable Gloves By SuperbVintage Van Roalte Ladies Women'stan Long Leather Gloves 15" Size 7Aris Black Leather Gloves Nwt (probably Vintage)Vintage 60s 70s Original Blue Satin Long Stretchy Opera Gloves 7 7 1/2Vintage Leather Gloves , Tan Silk Lined Long, Size 7, EucVintage Silver Lame Ladies Gloves Go Go GlovesVintage Gold Lame Ladies Go Go GlovesVintage Women's Italian Red Leather Gloves 100% Wool Lined New Old Stock 7 1/2Vintage New Unworn 14" Black Kid Leather Silk Lined Ladies Gloves Size 7 BeautysLot 6 Pr Vintage Ladies Gloves All Leather-bravura,grandoe, Anne Klein, Fimale++Womens White Leather Gloves Size 8Vintage Bachner Green Leather Gloves 11" Long - Ladies Size 6 1/2Pr Ladies Vtg S-t-r-e-t-c-h 100% Nylon & Lace White Gloves By Lee Begman Size 8Black Kid/leather 14" Gloves, Cut Out Design, Vintage, Size 7 1/2Vintage Black Ladies Gloves Fully Beaded On Front 13"Antique / Vintage Givenchy Leather Designer Gloves Brass Or Gold Plated Buckle Women's Vintage Rabbit Fur Muff - Hand Warmer With Handle & Ruffles Vintage French Embroidered Suede Leather Gloves Sz 6Vintage French Ladies Gloves..1950s..elegant Long Beige Leather..evening GlamourGorgeous Vintage Leather Silk Lined Gloves Made In Usa Never Worn Mccurdy"s Group Lot Of 6 Pairs Of Vintage Made In Italy Women's Soft Leather Gloves-operaVtg White Doeskin Elbow Length Gloves - W/tags - Nos - Sz. 7Vintage Red Wool Lined Hunting Mittens / Gloves Sportsman Trigger Opening - M/l Black Lambskin Leather 7 Ladies Vintage GlovesVintage Italian Embroidered White Kid GlovesStunning Long Black Leather French Gloves Paris Cutout Leaves Sz6 Lot 12 Pr Vintage Ladies Gloves Cloth & Leather, France, Van Raalie, Wear-right+2 Pair Vintage Soft Leather Gloves Size 7 And 8 Black With Cut Out Lace 3 Pairs Vintage Ladies White Kid Leather Gloves Size 7 Long Med & Short LotVintage Black Leather Kid Gloves White Size 7 11" Long "carretto" Vintage, Thin, Black, Leather GlovesVintage Ladies Wear Right Gloves Size 6 1/2 (small) Over The Wrist Cuff6 Pr ~ White Leather Kid + Opera Gloves ~ Paris France Italy 6.5 - 7 ~ Mop Vintage 1960s *nos Cut-chenille Carpet Kelly Bag W/ Matching Gloves $17.99 NrVintage Ladies Black Leather Gloves Lambs Fur Trim Wool Lining Size Medium3 Pairs Of Vintage Leather Ladies Gloves Fownes, Peccary Pigskin, KislavAntique Glove Dryer Or Stretcher Forms - Green - Laundry RoomLot 10 Pr Vintage Ladies Gloves Cloth & Leather + Scarves-fowries, Miss Aris,++Vintage Classique Ladies Gray Leather Gloves, Silk Lined, Italy, Size 6 1/21970's Vintage Long Lavender Opera Gloves 22 Inch With Pearl Buttons Vintage Lot Of 11 Pairs Of Gloves Size Small Variety Of Styles And Fabric Vintage Lauffer Brown Ladies Doeskin Gauntlet Style Gloves Size 6 1/2 -(m)Vintage Pink Quilted Satin Glove, Lingerie, Hanky Storage Box Ladies Embroidered Kid Leather Gloves Vintage Size 6.5 - Lovely And SoftAntique Crochet Dainty White GlovesVintage Woman's Navy Gloves New Mid Arm Cotton 6 1/2Vintage Long White Gloves, 1960s, Formal, 22 Inches LongAntique Folding Pocket Button Glove HookFive (5) Pairs Of Vintage Childrens Mittens Wool And Knit