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    

Nwt Vintage I. Magnin Red Leather Gloves Lined In Silk Size 6 1/2Vintage 30s Original Tan Leather Gloves London Glove Co. Made In France 7 Vintage 20s 30s Original Kid Leather Tan Art Deco Gauntlet Gloves 5.75 TinyVintage France Soft Black Leather Opera Gloves - 6 3/4 W Glass ButtonsVintage Genuine Italianleather Silk Lined Womens Elbow Gloves Size 7 1/2 IvoryMark Cross Vintage Women's Ladies Dress Glove Pigskin Leather 6 1/2 NewVintage Lot Of 8 Pair Of Ladies GlovesLot Of 7 Pair Of Vintage GlovesWomens Vintage Leather GlovesVintage Caresskin Gloves By SuperbBn Vintage Brown Pair Ladies Glives "the Kislav Glove" France Suede Like 1947-64Lot Of 11 Vintage Gloves Meyers Fownes Van Raalte Austin Grandoe Vintage Gloves Lot Estate 40s 50 Satin Ruffle Mesh Trim A Elbow Pink Red + ColorElegant Pair Vintage White Leather Gloves~18" Opera Length1940s Vintage Purple Tulle Wedding Prom Hat & Morie Rayon Fingerless Gloves11 Pair Vintage Ladies Womens Dress Gloves Nylon Assorted ColorsFour Pair Ladies Womens Vintage Kid Leather Driving Gloves Unlined Vintage Norwegian Knitted Mittens-gorgeous DesignLadies Green Leather Gloves/sewing/crafts/collectiblesVintage Ladies Gloves - 4 Various Pair (lot B)Nice Vintage Women's Lambskin Leather Lace Trim Straps Fingerless Gloves BlackVintage Viola Weinberger Long Silk Lined Ivory Kid Leather Gloves Size 7 FranceLovely Vintage Ladies White Leather Gloves Embroidered Red Roses Sz 7 To 7-1/210 Pair Vintage Estate Find Ladies Dress Gloves White Black Cloth Suede + LotVtg Tan Off White Fine Soft Leather Below Elbow Gloves 14.5" Long Size 6 SmallLarge Lot Of 16 Pairs Vintage Women's Gloves, Different Sizes, Lengths, ColorsLong Black Ladies Leather Gloves, (kid Leather) Vintage, Size 7, Van Raalte9 Pair Ladies Vintage Gloves 3 Pair Black & 6 Pair Of WhiteVintage Ladies Gloves Lastic Leather Fownes Elbow LenghVintage Carolina Amato White Gloves 21" Long Tip Of Finger To Finished Hem Effie Trinket Halloween Vintage Pink Gloves Hunger Games Dress UpWomens Long Leather Gloves Sz 11 21" Long UnlinedVtg Kid Leather Gloves Unusual Black With Pastels Sz 7 Italy Never WornVintage Wire Hand Shaped Glove Hanging DryersYellowstone Brand Form Fitting Seamless Gloves, Idaho Falls Vintage W/ Tag Nos8 Pair Of Fancier Vintage Ladies Gloves. Cotton, Nylon Or Silk5 Pair Of Ladies Gloves 1 Black, 1 Gold, 1 Off White, 1 White, 1 Purple Womens Ladies Vintage Hand Gloves Pale Peach Stretch Fabric Size 7-8 Long Length