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    

Lot 15 Pr Vtg Ladies Gloves Nylon Cotton Dress Short Opera Mod Color Glove Case Vintage Wedding 1940's Bride Basket Cards Vintage Gloves Flowers Old Wedding LotVintage Leather Past The Elbow Sz 7 Boyce Lazarus GlovesVintage Ladies Long Black Kid Leather Gloves Size 71/2 Opera Gloves 17+1/2" MintVintage Harley Davidson Buco Horsehide Shearling Leather Gauntlet Mitts Gloves Pr Antique Linen & Lace Fingerless Gloves Cuffs Whitework Embroidery French LaceAntique Edwardian Crocheted Lace White Ladies Gloves Vintage Antique White Ivory Women's Gloves & Fancy Paper Fan 22" White Kid Leather Opera Gloves 3 Button Stamped Real Kid Size 7Vintage Plaid Handbag With Matching Gloves And CollarVintage Samsonite Round Hatbox With Gloves,glasses, And Purses Vintage New Black Elbow Length May Company Leather Gloves Size 7 NwtWomens Older Long GlovesCrocheted Lace Ladies Gloves Victorian Weddings Proms Reenactments Deep BlueVintage Off White Gloves With Delicate Beading, Great ConditionVintage Pretty Mint Gloves Calfskin White Subtle Womens Girls Lavabile 7 1/2 7.5Vintage Over The Elbow 22 Inch Ladies Gloves. BlackVintage Women's Cotton Glove With Side Bow And Flower Shape Buttons Vintage Gloves. Set Of 3 PairsLadies Vintage Gloves Peach Apricot Circa 1940-50's Sz 6 1/2 Antique Dress NylonVintage Sz 7 Red Leather Zippered Wrist Gloves Made In FranceVintage Cabela’s Usa Made Elk Skin Leather Work Gloves, XlCapretto Lavabile Ivory Kid Gloves, Size 7 1/4Vtg 50s Retro Womans Gathered Chartreuse Lime Green Nylon Cocktail Gloves Size 7Vintage Womans Von Roolte Long Black Opera Evening Gloves 28" Sz 6 1/2Louis Le Grand Vintage Kid Leather Gloves 8.5" Cream-coloredVintage Ladies Dress Gloves Black Red Beaded Small Vintage Long Black Kid Skin Gloves- Plain, Unhemmed - Size 6.5 -new!Vintage Ladies Womens Long White Cotton Blend Gloves Peekaboo Wrist Size M Vintage Gloves Opera Style- Gold Lame**pin Up Girl, 1960's Mad Men ++Vintage Women's White Dress Gloves Sz 6 1/2 Grandoe New W TagVintage Fownes Doette Handsewn Cotton Gloves Size 7 1/2Vintage Kitt Leather Gloves 4 Pair Cream ColorVintage Black Short Leather Gloves W/button Closure On Bottom Side Size 7.5Vintage 1940s - 1950s Navy Blue Ladies Gloves With Scalloped Edge - SmallFancy White Ladies Gloves With Bead Decoration Vintage1960's EucTrue Vintage Women's White Nylon Gloves 1947-1964 Post Wwii Early 60"'sVintage Antique Estate Boyce Lazarus Black Leather Lined Gloves 6 1/2 DrivingSaranac Vintage Police Dress Uniform Deerskin Gloves,never Worn, In Original BagVintage 1950s Retro Womans Robins Blue Aqua Cocktail Gloves W Buttons Never UsedAntique Vintage Set Of Glove & Button Hooks, & Shoe Horn Emer. Green Celluloid HVintage Matching Clutch Purse & Gloves, Flower Tapestry, VcgUnused Vtg 1950s Beaded Ladies Gloves Size 7-1/2 Beige Nylon Simplex Orig PkgEuc Women's Vintage Long Black Gloves - 18" Dress Gloves - Collectible ClothingVintage 1950's-1960's Van Raalte Gloves White/cream(8") Sz MVintage Estate Sears Roebuck & Co Kerrybrooke Soft Leather Dark Brown Gloves Dark Brown Cotton Lined Leather Gloves Size MVintage Lady's Gloves - Four PairVintage Crocheted Gloves - No Stains! Minor Repair NeededVintage Pair Of Childrens White Church Gloves