Collecting and wearing vintage gloves is hands-down a fun and fashionable hobby.
Most country women today rely on gloves for purely functional reasons—to keep hands cozy in winter, to protect against blisters or stings in the garden, to avoid dishpan hands in the kitchen.
But not long ago, gloves were essential for any woman going into town to shop or dine, or as a sign of respect when attending a wedding, club meeting or church services. For women who worked hard with their hands and had no time or money for manicures, gloves offered a pretty way to present their hands in public. (Remember the Gone With the Wind scene when Scarlett tried to blame her rough hands on forgetting her gloves while riding?)
Women have worn gloves as accessories for centuries. Queen Elizabeth I, noted for her richly embroidered and jeweled gloves, would take them off and put them on during audiences to draw attention to her hands. Mary Todd Lincoln once purchased 400 identical pairs of gloves in four months; the 1902 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog offered 34 glove styles, from 22 cents to $2.85, for girls and women.
Given the frequency with which gloves were worn, it wasn’t unusual for a woman to own several dozen pairs in various colors and styles. Gloves were considered an ideal gift, suitable for everyone from secretary to sweetheart.
The last golden age for ladies’ gloves was in the 1950s, and there were strict do’s and don’ts for wearing them. Gloves were to be donned at home, and kept on when shaking hands or dancing, but removed for playing cards or eating.
They came in various lengths—opera or full-length styles, associated with formal events; elbow-length; and shortie wristlets (sometimes called matinee gloves, often associated with Jacqueline Kennedy). A 1956 Montgomery Ward catalog offered 10 styles of white cotton gloves, but also promoted the newer stretch nylon.
Want to go hands-on with this nostalgic style? Gloves are readily available from antique and vintage shops at nominal prices ranging from $3 to $15, in a variety of materials.
Carefully wash your hands to remove all creams and perfumes before wearing gloves. Store them dry and flat, never in plastic bags or with mothballs, and they should give you the thumbs-up for years to come.
—Barbara J. Eash (Country Woman Magazine’s Antiques Expert)