Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Crash Course in Victorian Gloves

There was some interest around here lately for more details on various aspects of Scarlett's wardrobe. We did our best to garner answers for some of the questions asked in the comments last week. It has not been easy; our usual sources didn't really cover accessories, but with the help of iso and her recently-acquired subscription to the entire archive of Godey's Lady's Book (!), today I am here with information on the burning topic of 19th century gloves.
And for the Victorians, gloves were indeed a burning topic. The fashion regarding gloves changed numerous times throughout the century, but some things remained constant. The wearing of gloves was strongly encouraged not only outdoors, but indoors as well. Gloves were an indicator of a person's social and economic status, so nothing but the best quality would do. An old proverb said that it took three kingdoms to make one glove: Spain to provide the kid, France to cut it out and England to sew it. The cutting was the essential part, for gloves had to be fit to the hand of the wearer. This was not an era that encouraged mass-production for luxury items: hands had to be measured for gloves, just like feet were measured for boots. In the picture, you can see a lady getting fitted for her gloves.

Quite a precious commodity under these circumstances, gloves were carefully cleaned and kept in ornate glove boxes. They were of course differentiated for day wear and evening wear and for various occasions. Some people, generally the extravagantly rich, were said to change their gloves up to 4 times a day. In a century that put so much set on this particular accessory, Scarlett O'Hara's lack of gloves during the jail scene was in itself unladylike, regardless of the state of her hands. A lady did not leave her house without her gloves on.

As the century progressed, the style of gloves and the materials used changed numerous times. The popularity of kid was slowly dented by first suede, and then lace and silk. At the very beginning of the century, long gloves were popular, in the style favored by Empress Josephine of France (Napoleon's first wife). The length was compensated by the gloves' loose fit on the arm, that allowed women to wear them drawn down towards the wrist, at various lengths. The long gloves will only come back into fashion in the second half of the century (around 1870), coupled with a tight fit on the arm, that made it a little complicated for ladies to don and remove their gloves. A compromise was achieved with the mousquetaire wrist opening, through which ladies could slip their hands out of the gloves for meals without removing them altogether (it was and is against etiquette to eat or drink with gloves on).

And since all the other aspects (color, fabric, length) pretty much differ from year to year, there wouldn't have been much sense in me trying to treat this period as whole. So instead iso and I had a different idea. After the jump, you'll find a timeline of glove styles fashionable from 1861 to 1873, taken directly from Godey's Lady's Book. This way you can not only see how the fashion evolved, but also check exactly what gloves Scarlett would have been wearing every year of the book (baring the war years, of course).

Also, after the jump, two extra surprises for you: a guide to glove lengths and a fragment examining the relation between gloves and mourning. Check it out and tell us what you think!

Timeline of glove styles fashionable from 1861 to 1873*

June: The Josephine gloves, of a peculiar cut, and the Mathilde glove, bordered at the wrist with a row of dahlia leaves, stamped out, are to be seen on the hands of all our belles.

February: Gloves are worn to match, and not to contrast with the color of the walking dress as heretofore. The best have three rows of stitching on the back, and two narrow borders of pinked kid at the wrist; they are fastened by two buttons. The stitching is in black, or some color contrasting with the glove. Black, purple, dark brown, and green are among the best shades.

November: The fashionable style of glove, except for evening wear, is the gant de Swede, stitched with colors, and made to cover the wrist.

May: Gloves are worn with quite deep gauntlets, those for evening wear being buttoned with four or five buttons. The most elegant we have seen, besides being beautifully stitched on the hand with a contrasting color, had a fluted gauntlet of kid, scalloped and elegantly stitched. These, though very suitable for the street, were particularly pretty for evening wear

June: Silk gloves have just appeared with Tartan gauntlets, and we suppose will be adopted.

August: We saw at Stewart's quite a novelty in kid gloves. They were of light colors covered with little waving imps or small stars or pin dots. We mention these merely as a novelty, for they are far from pretty. For summer wear, we would recommend kid-finished thread gloves. They are stitched on the back with a contrasting color, and are really very pretty. We particularly admire the buff, stitched with black, and the pure white ones.

November: A new style of glove for evening wear is made quite high on the wrist, and laced with fine silk cords from the wrist to the top. The cord is finished with silk tassels, and is tied in bows at the wrist.

August: White or buff thread gloves have for the present warm season taken the place of kid. They are quite pretty being stitched on the back and round the wrist with either the same or a contrasting color. The latest novelty in kid glove is of the kind called gant de Suede, or undressed kid. They are of the gauntlet shape, and by means of an elastic fastened inside the back of the wrist, they pass over the hand and fit admirably without any buttons whatever. They are very prettily embroidered with colored silk and beads.

December: Kid gloves this winter will be worn without gauntlets, merely buttoning with one button. They are of all the new shades, but the most popular tints are Havanne and wine color. The assortment of warm gloves is unusually good. They are of very fine cloth of the most delicate shades, also of white richly stitched, and bound with kid. They can be had of all sizes, from infants' to ladies'.

April: One of the latest freaks of fashion is the introduction of kid gloves reaching half way up the arm, of pink, blue, and mauve. We trust most sincerely that this grotesque novelty may not be humored by our American belles—for violet, blue, or pink kid arms are too bizarre to be in good taste.

June: A new and attractive style of evening glove is of white kid with a heavy fringe of pearl drops round the wrist; the backs are richly worked with seed pearls. Crystal and jet drops and beads also trim very effectively.

April: Gloves are worn very high on the wrist, some being fastened with five buttons, and we hear of Parisian élégantes wearing them as high as the elbow. Another style called the Josephine, is very long, and is slipped over the hand and arm without buttons.

July: In gloves we find a variety of new tints, such as Bismarck, Vesuve, autumn leaves, and peach-blow. The short ones are finished at the wrist with a band, corded on each edge with a different color; others are scalloped on top, and embroidered with a flower, bird, or bee. For evening wear gloves are exceedingly long, some being finished with five studs, equal to eight buttons.

September: In gloves, the fashionable colors are shades of Sultan, dark-red, like garnet, and wood browns, for dark, serviceable gloves; lavender, stone, buff, and purple, for visiting or evening wear. A box of gloves, with its fine gradations of shade, is a beautiful study. The delicate buff, salmon, cream, and straw tints, with their crimped tassels, are an enticing sight, and the purple, violet, lilac, and lavender shades, up to pearl-gray, are suggestions of refinement in themselves. The duchess two-button, or stud-glove, with lacing and studs on back, is most worn; then come the three-button glove, the four-button glove, and lastly the six-button glove, the number of buttons showing the length of the glove. These last extend to the elbow. These long gloves are very little worn as yet, as most persons prefer their arms uncovered.

December: New kid gloves show novelties in color, but retain the popular designs. The styles for street toilettes are: first the duchesse glove, ornamented on the back with studs and fancy lacings; the favorite two button glove, with welted wristband or a scalloped volante, and a longer glove without a seam at the wrist, which makes any hand look slender. The shades to be worn with promenade and church costumes of any color are Egyptian brown, chestnut, and that handsome purple-gray called elderberry. The blues, greens, reds, and garnets are imported to match suits. With ceremonious visiting and carriage toilettes, they should be blondine or sardony color. For evening, delicate flesh-like tints are worn more than the chalk-white gloves, that contrast so unfavorably with any arms less white than alabaster.

From Peterson's Magazine: Long gloves, which cover a part of the arm, and a bracelet on the glove are quite the fashion. Bracelets are also worn on the upper part of the arm, leaving the wrist free.

July: In gloves the shades mostly worn this season are the various shades of silver gray, golden brown, green, blue, pink, and violet. In every case the color is uniform with the costume, and the handsome Marquise style, either in one or two fastenings, seems to be the favorite. The Harris scaraless glove has no seam on the side, and gives a better fit and neater appearance to the hand. Among fabric gloves of English make is a new mixture of silk and lisle thread, durable and cool, a pleasant relief from kid for summer wear. These are long at the wrist, numbered and fitted with the perfection of a kid glove, and may be had in dark pepper and salt gray and brown or drab with white. Laced back white thread gloves, in all sizes from infants' to ladies', are very dressy, and will wash with but little shrinkage. Thread gauntlets, buff, white, or gray with black stitching, are neat and serviceable.

October: White kid gloves should be especially reserved for occasions of the greatest ceremony; on all other occasions they are out of place, common, and vulgar, and white gloves must never be of any material but kid. Next to white kid gloves, straw-colored are the most dressy, for they look almost white by night, and may be worn when white may not, for fêtes, small evening parties etc. Black gloves should only be worn in mourning, and never at any other time under any pretext whatever. Ladies who are forced to study economy may select useful dark shades for gloves, but never black, black gloves being exclusively reserved for mourning. As a rule, gloves should always be a shade lighter than the dress with which they are worn— never darker. Dark gloves with light dresses are most offensive to the eye. For general wear, neutral tints are the best for gloves, and, above all, the Swedish kid glove in its natural tan color.

April: Gloves are in every variety and shade, and from one to four buttons; the colors vary from the daintiest daisy, violet, and yellow to the rarest rose and azure tints. Gray of a very light shade, however, is the most fashionable, since it harmonizes well with all colors. But to those who cannot afford the expense of these perishable colors, there is always the ladylike black or brown kid, and gauntlets of silk and lisle in profusion.

May: Long gloves still continue popular, from three to four buttons are mostly desired. Undressed kid gloves for general wear are rapidly gaining favor, they are now brought in darker shades of blue gray, olive brown, and drabs that do not show soil easily. Infants' kid gloves are shown for infants only six months old, and from these up through all sizes to ladies' gloves. Fine black lace mitts will be worn in very warm weather, lace gloves with fingers will also be worn, it is rumored. These gloves cover the entire hand, and were worn by our grandmothers.
*All information taken from Godey's Lady's Book. 

Victorian Gloves and Mourning (excerpt from Godey's Lady's Book, October 1871)

"(...)Abroad, where rules respecting mourning are much more strict than in England, black kid gloves are not allowed during the first stage of mourning. Black kid is shining, and deep mourning should avoid all that shines; thus, black wollen gloves are alone allowed under these circumstances. At the Burgundian court gloves were not allowed at all during mourning. It would appear by that that gloves were considered entirely as objects of vanity, like powder and rouge, which likewise were prohibited during mourning."

Glove length (info taken from here where you can also see pictures for each style) 

Glove length is traditionally measured in buttons. This is an old French measure, a little over an inch (on early gloves, buttons were sewn at a distance of an inch from each other). The length in buttons reflects the distance from the base of the thumb to the top edge of the glove.

2-button: 8 to 9 inches long, reach to the wrist without covering it. 
4-button: 10 to 11 inches long, cover the wrist and extend a couple of inches up onto the forearm.
6-button: 12 to 13 inches long, extend well up onto the forearm. This length is frequently associated with gauntlet-type gloves (i.e. gloves that have flared armpieces).
8-button: 14 to 15 inches long, extend to the upper forearm. Also known as "three-quarter" length gloves.
12-button: 18 to 19 inches long,  reach up to and just over the elbow. Commonly referred to as "elbow-length" gloves, not to be confused with the classic opera gloves. They can have mousquetaire wrist openings.
16-button: 22 to 23 inches long, generally end at mid-biceps. This is the classic opera length. These gloves usually come with a mousquetaire wrist opening.
21-button: 27 to 29 inches long, reach all the way to the armpit. Worn with strapless or sleeveless evening outfits.

For more information on opera gloves, check out this amazing site:


  1. Good work guys! That is indeed a comprehensive delve into gloves. Thank you. I'm jealous of you iso - Godey's archives? Well at least you share! Do you think perhaps Walter Plunkett read that particular entry from 1871? While Scarlett's claret dress was hardly period appropriate, at least the gloves were a couple of shards darker than the dress. So, long gloves caused quite a stir when they came out: freaks of fashion, grotesque novelty! Somebody wasn't impressed! Isn't it funny how things change? I mean, I could go twelve months without putting on a pair, while in GWTW days they were a symbol of your social standing!

  2. Sorry, lighter. My brain is dead. It is Friday, bring on 5pm, I say, I need a drink!

  3. Yay for you! If you're the same boy as the one above, you can edit your name to say MM, even if your username has to be this.

  4. Well thanks for the tip Bugsie. I'll sort it out next week at work. I don't care about anything on the weekend, except planting pansies in my garden and pouring a refill. Now that I've been forced to reveal my full initials I'll say that I always loved that MCM spelled out 1900 in Roman numerals. The year the other MM was born!
    What does iso take?

  5. Cute thing with the initials. If you hadn't commented on the other post about Vivien's age, my assumption would have been 1900+84=George Orwell. As for iso, so far just asking her worked, but perhaps I just unwittingly inspired her to ask for bribes. We should set up a pay wall with fashion plates at the blog. Send us two fashion plates we haven't seen and we'll let you in :P

  6. Souns fair. How about the coloured in ones? I also have an Orwell thing. Don't get me started.

  7. You have an Orwell thing? Not to get you started or anything, but that's very cool.

  8. Why do you say that? Cool how? Not that I'm trying to start anything...

  9. Well, cool as in I like George Orwell so I find it cool that other people like him too. Well, like him as in like his books, I wouldn't do well in a George Orwell trivia party, though.

  10. No me neither. That obsession focuses on 1984, and it's been on the back burner since this website sprung up!

  11. Yes, asking generally does work, but bribery also sounds like a lot of fun! Thanks for the suggestion, Bugsie. :P

    My bribe of choice would of course be fashion plates, preferably ones not from Godey's as I have all those. But feel free to bribe me with your fashion plates from Peterson's, Harper's Bazar, Graham's, The Domestic Englishwoman's Magazine, La Mode Illustree, Le Moniteur de la Mode, Journal des Demoiselles, etc. etc. Yes, I'm totally obsessed.... :)

  12. Great article. I love opera gloves! They are synonymous with class and elegance. I've worn gloves (not the cold weather kind) twice: First Communion and wedding day.


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