The Resurgence of the Fashion Glove

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From scrubbing dishes to attending galas, gloves have gone down in history are the ultimate accessory and one of the most universal items in fashion. Somewhere between utilitarian and fashionable, gloves hold a variety of uses, from production methods, and cultural influences as a vehicle for a more complete, detailed look. Gloves have become an overlooked accessory over the past few decades utilized for the purpose of practicality rather than aesthetics. While accessorizing is oft-overlooked in daily wear, fashion gloves have been spotted all fashion month long. Whether it be Gigi Hadid clad in Off-White moto gloves or Moschino’s Fall/Winter 2019 cash-pattered opera gloves, it seems this iconic accessory is here to stay.

While the origin of gloves is unclear, historical references date as far back as Homer’s The Odyssey written in 440 BC, describing Läertes wearing gloves walking through his garden to avoid brambles. The use of gloves became customary in the Catholic Church around the 10th century as an accessory of pontifical vestment, called episcopal gloves. The religious garb, often ornamented with a cross, was a symbol of purity, the performance of good works, and carefulness in procedure. Gloves claimed their place in common culture around the 13th century, likely deriving from a type of wrist armor called gauntlets used during battle in the Middle Ages. With the invention of firearms, heavy body armor wasn’t seen as necessary, facilitating the transition of gloves into ornamental wear.

In Paris, an assembly of artisans known as a guild for glove-makers or gantiers arose, cementing glove-making as an art with certain styles requiring up to five years of apprenticeship before starting work. Normally made from silk, animal skins, and an ultra-rich silk fabric called samite, the tanning process of certain materials left an odor to the product. Wife of King Henry II of France, Catherine de‘ Medici solved the problem in the 16th century with the invention of perfumed gloves.

De’ Medici was regarded as a powerful political leader in the French court and introduced several trends from her native Florence, Italy. She arrived at the French court with her personal perfumer René le Florentin with a collection of fragrances, from sweet jasmine to rich amber. Perfumed gloves became a widespread trend in women’s fashion, making knitted gloves considerably less desirable due to the fact that leathers that held fragrance longer had more social cache.

Although Parisian guilds recognized gantiers, in England, glove-makers were lumped into the guild of bookbinders, not seen fit to have its own association. As a notable follower of fashion, Elizabeth I’s love for highly detailed gloves adorned with fine jewels and metals resulted in the formation of a glover’s company. The queen herself reportedly had beautiful hands and supposedly would take her gloves on and off as a way to draw attention to them.

Gloves became a necessary trend with the introduction of short-sleeve fashions in the 1700s. Social etiquette of the time advised women to never leave the house without gloves, coordinating the accessory with outfit color palette and time of day. The turn of the century also brought new advancements bridging gloves’ purpose as a practical object rather than a fashionable accessory. Gloves became used in criminal cases as a way to avoid leaving fingerprints, as well as driving race cars, in which gloves were used to avoid getting splinters from wooden steering wheels.

The art deco style of the ‘20s was reflected in glove trends with geometric patterns and contrasted stitching. Among the top designers of the time, Elsa Schiaparelli introduced her Surrealist styles in the form of 20-button opera gloves and wrist-length gloves decorated in red-painted fingernails. Christian Dior introduced his New Look, embracing ultra-feminine cinched-waists and full skirts completed with a ladylike pair of gloves.

First-wave feminism then instilled new values in women, causing a rebellion against the restrictive attire of the Belle Époch (defined as the period from 1871 up until the First World War in 1914), moving fashion farther away from traditional confines and etiquette of women’s dress.

As people rationed several luxuries during the start of World War II in 1939, gloves weren’t seen as a necessity anymore. Women saw gloves as impractical and frivolous in the climate of war. Gloves then saw their true revival in the post-war beauty standards of the ’50s. Society pushed women to conform to a domesticated role, consisting primarily of attention to physical appearance and homemaking. Reminiscent of 19th century fashion tendencies of high-detail, gloves were often jeweled, embroidered, and offered in a variation of cuts and colors for different times of day.

The influence of celebrity stardom in the ’50s created a spectacle around what the celebrity wore and who made it for them. Actresses frequently wore gloves, including Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes wearing a „shocking pink“ satin gown opera gloves. William Travilla, the designer, layered the pink gloves with stacks of thick diamond bracelets around the wrist, oozing opulence. The highly produced musical number to the tune of Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend became one of the most unforgettable scenes in cinema history, with many other actresses and artists donning replicas, including a rendition by Madonna for her Material Girl music video in 1984.

Gloves also became indicative of dress codes surrounding social class and status. Formal galas were common in high society circles during the ’50s, with the introduction of the biannual International Debutante Ball in the U.S. in 1954. The ball presents young women from distinction of upper class families, stemming from the French word débutante, or „female beginner.“ While the invitation only event highlights the young women of high society, the event also has strict fashion codes. In the U.S., they’re required to wear white gowns with satin or kid gloves, setting firm restrictions for the country’s most affluent ladies.

The standards of beauty and style in ’50s turned over into the start of the ’60s. Styles of gloves became simpler with less of a desire for gaudy embellishment. On a daily basis, women opted for a basic white glove popularized by First Lady Jackie Kennedy, who frequently wore white gloves to her public appearances. Women often had several pairs of white gloves to dispose of once their vivid color dulled. Additionally, Breakfast at Tiffany’s debuting in 1961, became an instant box-office hit. Designer Hubert de Givenchy created three dresses for lead actress Audrey Hepburn to wear in the film, specifically a little black dress crafted from Italian satin for Hepburn in the opening scene. Accompanied by a pair of matching black opera gloves, a Tiffany window display, and whole lot of pearls, the iconic LBD became a piece of cinematic history and was ultimately sold in auction at Christie’s for £467,200 (approximately 2,451) in 2006.

Second-wave feminism arose in the early ’60s and was in full throttle by the ’70s, ushering in sexual liberation. The introduction of androgynous fashions, including Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking tuxedo, opened up new possibilities for women in the realm of fashion and beyond. Women no longer felt obliged to follow the regulations domesticated dress, which demanded skirts, handbags, and matching gloves. They began saving their gloves for the winter and opted for a more cutting-edge look, wearing more masculine shapes.

The bright colors and towering shoulder pads of the ’80s commenced a time period of creative exploration in fashion and beyond. As disco fell out of fashion, emerging artists and genres were at the forefront of cultural influence. It wasn’t until Madonna shook both fashion and music worlds by wearing lingerie, crucifix chains, and lots of leather, that gloves made a comeback. The look was created by stylist and jewelry designer Maripol and Madonna’s signature accessory was a pair of lacy black gloves (sometimes fingerless.) Her look was synonymous with the ’80s, embodying the provocative pop star in a style that was unlike anything the public had seen before.

In 1983, a television special aired unleashing a newfound force in music gliding across television screens. Michael Jackson had recently released his his first solo album Thriller and performed „Billie Jean“ on live TV. This performance included the introduction of some of Jackson’s signature performing elements, such as the debut of his moonwalk dance, black fedora hat, and the iconic singular bedazzled glove that he continued to wear throughout his music career.

And, bringing it all full circle, gloves have become a statement accessory all on their own in 2019 and indicate a return to maximalist fashion and glamour. One of the notable advocates for the resurgence of the accessory was Karl Lagerfeld. Until his death in 2019, the designer who worked as the creative director for Chanel, Fendi, and his own eponymous line, rarely being seen without his iconic fingerless black gloves. „In the old protocol, it is important to say hello to somebody who is wearing gloves,“ he once said. „And you know, I cannot sketch if I have leather here [on my fingertips].“

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