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The History of Gloves

[Word Definition] The word glove comes from the Middle English word glof; which is related to the Old Norse glofi. ref a
viking ship
A Viking ship from Gokstad ref 3
The fact that the word glove comes from Old Norse is likely to be because gloves were used by Vikings. To quote one source,

"Gloves were used when possible since they were scarce and hard to produce. Subsequently, Vikings would sometimes fight each other for clothes as they were very expensive." ref 1

The Norse were Viking warriors who journeyed towards the west from the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish geographical regions. The term Viking came to represent the Scandaniavian people who raided The North and West of Europe from as early as the 8th Century through to the 11th Century before settling in parts of Britain and even as far as North America. The word Viking is from Old Norse vikingr, probably from vik, meaning creek, or sea inlet. ref 2

It's meaning probably came to represent those that invade by sea, like pirates, bandits or those that raid. Although the Vikings probably traded as well as raided with the inhabitants of those countries they journeyed to.

The Purpose of Gloves

Gloves would have initially been created or invented out of a necessity to fulfil a specific function. Supposedly cavemen would have used them as a crude and rustic mitten type of covering, used to complete an awkward or uncomfortable task. As early as Roman times they wore gloves of linen and silk to eat meat to keep their hands grease free and clean. Whilst initially, function would have lead to their inception, other benefits would have become apparent.

Insulation from the heat or cold or perhaps to prevent scratched hands while working with hostile materials, flint, stone or iron, gloves became a popular item and eventually a fashionable one. Uses for gloves increased and we find them used by many different people, in differing occupations, throughout the ages. As the practice of Falconry, Archery and other occupations and interests became popular in England, leather gloves began to be utilised and become an essential clothing accessory for protection. Although technology has advanced greatly from those days, in some respects, gloves are still very recognisable and no doubt, manufactured along similar processes to those centuries earlier.

Indeed, perhaps some types of modern leather gloves differ little in terms of shape and design compared with some gloves from centuries ago.

Glove popularity increased greatly when the humble glove became more of a fashion statement by the aristocracy and gentry. As Kings, Queens, Bishops and Popes started to wear gloves, initially in a symbolic nature, gloves started to become a statement of wealth and power.

And the Inventor of Gloves Was?

No one really knows who invented gloves as perhaps their inception came about through several inventors at the same time. We can never be sure of this of course, but necessity probably was the 'mother of invention' and it can be assummed that they were in use in one form or another by several early people groups as the need arose.

Early Glove Making

As gloves were most likely a very early development in the history of clothing, the early forms of gloves would have most likely have been a 'mitten like' design made from animal skins.

These mittens would then have been used to protect its wearer from the cold winters of the North or to protect their hands from cuts, grazes and blisters when using crude flint tools.

It has been mentioned that gloves have been found in Egyptian Pyramids, One early and famous example being a linen pair discovered in Egypt in the tomb of King Tutankhamen dating some 1,400 years BC. View a great photograph at Kenneth Garrett Photography ref 3b

Pharaohs wore gloves as a symbol of their power and position while some egyptian women wore gloves as part of their beauty treatments. Women wore gloves to protect them and used fragrant oils and honey on their hands before wearing silk gloves to protect them.
As time went by, glove making began to become a more polished art and the rough mitten deisigns were improved with glove designs allowing the use of fingers individually stitiched to provide a greater freedom and control of the fingers while wearing them.

As early as the 11th Century the glove industry was started in Britain and had one of the oldest known glove making guilds in the world.

cloth glove design pattern

A simple cloth glove design pattern
ref 4

Gloves Mentioned in History

Gloves are seen in ancient writings, such as Homer's The Odyssey, in which Laertes is said to wear gloves in his garden so as to avoid the brambles. There is some debate over the translation of this text.

In The History of Herodotus, written in 440 BC, Herodotus describes how Leotychides was given a bribe in the form of a gauntlet overflowing with silver, which later incriminated him. ref 5
Pliny the Younger - Glove Reference

Medieval statue of Pliny the Younger on the façade of Cathedral of S. Maria Maggiore in Como.
According to Pliny the Younger (ca. 100), his uncle's shorthand writer wore gloves during the winter so as not to impede the elder Pliny's work.[3] - "Pliny the Younger: Selected Letters". Fordham.edu. Retrieved 2010-03-16.

And later into the 11th Century we find a good description of someone forgetting to use their gloves, as demonstrated by the Bishop of Durham's escape from the Tower in the reign of Henry I. "having forgotten his gloves, he rubbed the skin off his hands to the bone in sliding down the rope from his window." ref 6

Matthew of Paris reported that Henry II of England was buried with gloves on his hands in 1189.

When King John's tomb was opened in 1797, he was found wearing gloves, as was King Edward I after his tomb was opened in 1774.

Evolution of Gloves 12th - 16th Century

As gloves evolved the complexity and materials used grew, but it wasn't really until the 11th and possibly 12th Century that glove making as we know it, began to develop. From the early crude 'mitten-like' designs gloves started to evolve as different materials and designs were employed.

It was after the Norman Conquest in England in the 11th Century, that gloves became a more popular clothing accessory especially for Nobles and Dignataries. The Aristocracy started to wear gloves as a mark or status symbol of their power and wealth. You could argue that it became an item that diplayed one's power or wealth for the celebrities of the day.

Gloves used as a means of weather proofing to keep the hands warm predated the Medieval Timeline in Europe, they started to become a fashion symbol or status of position from the 12th Century onwards. The period between the 12th and 16th Centuries saw the humble glove take on symbolic importance as well as practical significance in Britain and Europe.
Knights Glove / Gauntlett
V&A (M.466-1927) ref 7
In Britian the glove making industry started in the eleventh century and gloves were made from local deer, sheep, or imported kidskins. Iron or chain mail gloves were also developed and used by Knights in warfare as a way to protect their hands. In the 12th Century the first Tanners Guild was formed in England and leather gloves were commonly produced.

Leather gloves were used in Falconry and Archery as their protective qualities and warmth were being exploited across many fields of occupation and work. When leather gloves became a fashionable product for the wealthy, gloves became a luxury item to display status and distinction and were highly popular through to the Victorian era but it was Queen Elizabeth I, that made them fashionable for ladies in the 16th Century

Queen Elizabeth I

queen elizabeth i gloves
Queen Elizabeth I Gloves from the Ashmolean Musuem ref 8
Good Queen Bess had shapely hands which she was quite vain about, and used gloves effectively to attract attention; similarly, at her royal audiences, she would sit on her throne playing with her gloves, pulling them on and off with studied care and deliberately striking poses with her gloved hands.

For instance, at the abovementioned 1566 ceremony in which she wore those 18" gauntlets, she pulled them off and put them back on repeatedly so that everyone might see and enjoy the graceful movements of her hands. Hand In Glove, Bill Severn (David McKay, 1965); Page 34

Opera Gloves

Leather gloves for women became an essential product for fashionable women after this time and leather gloves became an integral piece of womens clothing. Opportunities to wear leather gloves were appreciated and the longer ladies leather gloves that reached beyond the elbow were popular at the opera where they could be seen and shown off.

These long leather gloves that extend beyond the elbow are also termed as evening gloves. One peculiarity is that they tried to fit their hands into gloves a size too small. Gloves became so poular during this period that for the aristocracy, it was considered bad manners to be seen without wearing gloves.

napoleonic regency opera gloves
Opera Gloves in the Napoleonic/Regency Era ref 9

Glove Manufacturing

gloving donkey invented by James Winter 1807 in Somerset

All gloves were sewn by hand and sewing evenly was a problem such that getting consistent results was problematic. It took an invention by James Winter of Stoke Sub Hamden, South Somerset, England in 1807, called a Gloving Donkey, that revolutionised the process. ref 10

The Gloving Donkey consisted of a clamp with evenly spaced brass teeth which held the glove and enabled the sewer to sew evenly and more quickly. It was an important invention that brought consistency and a degree of quality in stitching gloves and remained in use until the invention of the sewing machine.

Gloves and Symbolism

While gloves have always had a practical nature they also began to develop symbolic meanings. It was good social etiquette when approaching a person of high authority to remove the right hand glove as a mark of respect. The same was also true for approaching an altar. A lady could show her affection or favouritism to a man by taking off her glove and offering her hand to him.

In Freemasonry the glove plays an important symbolic role. Freemasons believe that the glove alludes to the purification of life. They quote Psalm 24:4 from the Bible "He who has clean hands and a pure heart"

The tradition of wearing gloves for Holy Sacrament by Roman Catholic Bishops became a religious ritual and as early as the 10th century, to keep their hands clean, Popes, Cardinals and Bishops wore gloves. Kings began to wear gloves as part of their ceremonial duties and later as more of a fashionable accessory to display their position.
On the occasion of the coronation of Frederic II., (1220 AD) other pieces of clothing were made, particularly a pair of gloves which were made in Palermo just prior to the coronation.

These gloves have a tremendous symbolic value. They are often referred to as "Pontifikal-(Pontiff's) Gloves. ref 11
Pontiff's gloves coronation gloves 1220 AD
Queen Victoria's Coronation Gloves
Coronation Gloves. Top: replica glove for Queen Victoria's coronation on 28th June 1838.
Bottom: original glove for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation 2nd June 1953. From the collection of The Worshipful Company of Glovers of Londonon loan to the Museum of Costume, Bath. Copyright © Bath and North East Somerset Council (Museum of Costume).

These gloves, from the 19th and from the 20th century, show both the continuation of skills in English goldwork embroidery.ref 12
  • Knights could start a duel by throwing a glove to the feet of a person of their displeasure.

  • Spanish dignitaries could not wear gloves in the presence of a Pope or king, at church or funerals

  • It was considered disrespectful to a glove wearer pulled off a glove with their teeth or offered their hand to someone while still wearing a glove.

  • A judge would always wear gloves while pronouncing or passing judgement
  • knights gloves
    Knights Gloves ref 12b

    Glove Styles

    Glove styles tended to be defined by social standing and earlier gloves were made in 3 and 5 fingered designs. 3 finger glove designs were refered to as 'country man's gloves' as early as the 15th Century.

    The wearing of sheepskin gloves for protection has been documented in the Middle Ages as being worn by stone masons who used dangerous tools. Pictures of Shepherds wearing 3 finger gloves (also known as split mittens) taken from the Luttrell Psalter, can be seen in the British Library.
    Rabbit Hunter wearing gloves in the January Fresco 1405-1410 A Rabbit Hunter is depcited in the January fresco at Castello Buonconsiglio, c. 1405-1410, as wearing mittens ref 13
    5 fingered gloves / ecclesiastical gloves taken from the tomb of Bishop Nicolaus Shiner, 1510 ref 14

    5 Fingered gloves from the tomb of Bishop Shiner 1510


    English Man's Gauntlett - England, c. 1625-1650 ref 14

    English Man's Gauntlett - England, c. 1625-1650
    16th century embroidered mittens
    c. 1600 Embroidered Mittens
    The crimson silk velvet mitten has a richly embroidered white satin gauntlet. The embroidery features silver and silver-gilt thread and purl, with couched work and coloured silks and is worked in long and short and satin stitches.

    Familiar flowers such as borage, pinks and lilies, as well as insects and fruits, scattered amongst the foliage, adorn the gauntlet. In the centre of each cuff and repeated back and front, is a pillar entwined with a sprouting vine. It may have been inspired by similar motifs in Geffrey Whitney's book, 'A Choice of Emblemes', (1586). Full of 'devices' or emblems (images associated with moral or allegorical tales), Whitney's 'Choice' was the first English emblem book and a great influence on design of the decorative arts during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.

    Although the precise meanings of many devices are lost today, they would have communicated from the wearer to observers in the way that badges and logos do today. ref 15
    elizabethan gauntlett mittens notice
    elizabethan gauntlett mittens
    Shepherds from Nativity by Nikolaus Stürhofer, c. 1505-1515 ref 16
    Note the 2 fingered gloves.

    2 fingered gloves - Shepherds from Nativity by Nikolaus Stürhofer, c. 1505-1515

    An infant's knit mitten, 16th century

    (From the Museum of London) Hill Street, Finsbury, London [Islington] ref 17

    infant's 16th century knitted mitten

    Some of the most expensive gloves

    michael jackson's expensive swarovski glove sold
    Michael Jackson's iconic Swarovski crystal studded glove worn during his 1984 Victory tour sold on Friday for $190,000. (June 2010) ref 18

    A Swarovski-crystal-studded glove belonging to the late pop star Michael Jackson has sold at a Las Vegas auction for $190,000.

    Bidders from around the world bought up Michael Jackson memorabilia worth nearly $1 million at an auction on the anniversary of his death, including $190,000 for the Swarovski-crystal-studded glove he wore on his 1984 Victory Tour.
    Michael Jackson's Gloves selles for $420,000. (Nov 2009)

    Michael Jackson's glove was bought by Hoffman Ma, a Hong Kong businessman on behalf of a hotel in Macau China, where it will now go on display.

    The spangled white glove was worn by Michael Jackson at the premiere of his trademark moonwalk dance way back in 1983.

    The glove is a modified golf glove studded with rhinestones all over. Jackson wore it on his left hand during the Motown’s 25th anniversary TV special. Even after spending such a fortune, Ma is a happy man and finds the deal “a fairly good discount”. ref 19
    michael jackson's rhinestone glove sold for 420,000
    Copyright: © 2011 (Go Planet Gloves)
    You may freely copy or use 'The History of Gloves' for whatever purpose you wish provided this copyright notice is quoted in its entirety and other copyright permissions are respected with their URI's exactly as they are represented - You must quote the following URI as the source for this document if linking to this or using the contents on another website - The History of Gloves

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