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Wearing Gloves: History of the Glove

Martha Stewart Weddings, Summer 2001

In their early history, gloves were emblems of status and power, worn by royalty and church dignitaries. In the Middle Ages, leather gauntlets were worn for riding and falconry, and elaborate gloves were used for ceremonial occasions, such as the investiture of a knight. Gloves took on symbolic importance: They were pledged as a guarantee, flung down as a challenge, and given as a token of affection by a lady to her suitor.

By the Renaissance, fashionable women wore opulently embroidered and perfumed gloves of silk, linen, and kid leather. Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England during the sixteenth century, was so fond of gloves that she amassed more than 2,000 pairs, which were looked after by a special wardrobe mistress. In fact, gloves were so popular that they were given as keepsakes to wedding guests, a tradition that continued into the nineteenth century.

After the French Revolution, when the classical empire look came into fashion, white or pastel gloves that extended past the elbow were paired with the slender, high-waisted dresses of the period. Throughout the nineteenth century, gloves and fingerless mitts were essential components of a lady's wardrobe, worn whenever she went out in public. It could take half an hour to put on a pair of 16-button opera-length gloves, requiring the use of glove stretchers, powder, buttonhooks, and the nimble hands of a maid.

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