Gloves, a history at our fingertips

Gloves are an accessory with a long history. Thanks to their function, that is, to protect our hands from the cold and dirt, they appeared very early in the history of clothing. In fact, even the ancient Egyptians wore gloves, as we were able to discover from archaeological findings in the tombs; while a sign of prestige for men, women used them to protect the skin on their hands after covering them with scented, emollient ointments. Their form was initially very different from today as they were simply bags, similar to pockets that were tied at the wrists. Subsequently a space was added for the thumb, thus allowing the hand to grip. The appearance of the other four fingers occurred much later on and this innovation marked the time when gloves also acquired an aesthetic value and became an ornament. The ancient Romans had two terms to describe gloves; the “digitalia” also covered the fingers, while the “manicae” covered the entire arm. Interestingly, it seems that it was precisely the Barbarians who spread the use of this accessory in Europe, which became very popular from the sixth century onwards. Another race that wore gloves was that of the Lombards who even used them during the wedding ceremony when the groom donated one of his warrior gloves and sword to the bride.

Status symbol

Already in medieval times, gloves played an important role in the social mores and were linked to specific groups of people, the noblemen and the clergy, each with their own type and features. It is precisely this historic period we refer to when we use expressions such as “to throw down the gauntlet” or “to treat with kid gloves”. While the members of the lower classes continued to wear gloves made from rough, unfinished materials, increasingly more the aristocrats chose much richer fabrics with embroideries and models in line with their lifestyles, thus creating the earliest fashions in gloves. The use of knitted gloves became widespread in the sixteenth century and in France, the Court of Louis XIV saw the appearance of musketeer gloves that had a very wide, flared opening. Later on, during the period of the French Empire, women wore richly coloured elbow-length gloves. Also typical of the nineteenth century were the so-called mittens (“mitaines”), that is, openwork gloves in silk or cotton that reached the middle of the forearm but left all the fingers exposed except for the thumb.

Sophisticated and trendy

Over time gloves ceased to be a symbol of the class one belonged to, despite retaining their elegance and fascination up to the 1930s-40s when men all over the world dreamed about Gilda’s striptease during which Rita Hayworth slipped off just one, thin very long glove.

Still today, “gloves” are trendy accessories symbolising elegance and vanity; a presence which, in spite of the vagaries of fashion, remains even after centuries as an essential and timeless item for everyday use as well as never missed  in the fashion run-ways of the great contemporary designers.

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