Gloves in the Mid-1800s

Gloves have been worn for thousands of years. Some gloves were utilitarian, some were symbolic parts of a costume or ceremony, and some were purely a fashion accessory. Since at least the 17th century gloves have been available in three broad categories—leather, fabric, and knitted. Initially gloves were made entirely by hand. In the early 19th century technical innovations began to take place and eventually some mechanization was introduced later in the century.

In the 1860s, gloves are a fashion requirement. Though one can find exceptions in looking at CDVs, generally no lady would be out in public without her gloves. At this point in time gloves are wrist-length and come in a wide variety of materials and colors.

I have compiled a number of excerpts from various sources to give you an overview regarding gloves.

Blue Leather Gloves
Holly Sheen Collection
American Family Encyclopedia of Useful Knowledge or Book of 7223 Receipts and Facts: A Whole Library of Subjects Useful to Every Individual, by T. Webster and Mrs. Parkes (1856)
Gloves are made of various materials; leather, silk, linen thread, cotton thread, cotton cloths, and worsted. The good qualities of gloves are strength, warmth in winter, coolness in summer, elasticity in fitting well, and to be well sewed in the seams. There is a distinction, also, between those which will bear washing and such as will not; likewise in the manner of sewing. 

Of leather gloves there are a great many kinds, according to the quality of the material or the uses for which they are required. Of these the principal are:

Kid gloves, the most beautiful, from their softness, thinness, and elasticity, fitting the hand almost like a second skin. They are white, and dyed of all colours, but white kid is always worn in full dress. Limeric gloves…..Beaver gloves….Woodstock gloves…..Buck-skin….Doe-skin….Tan leather….

Thread gloves are either of linen or cotton thread; but it is the former only that are properly known in the shops by the name of thread gloves….They are a remarkably cool wear in the summer….

Cotton gloves are the cheapest of all and are dyed of various colours….

Jean, sateen, and cambric gloves are cut out of cotton cloth of these names, and sewed together , their use is confined to women.

Silk gloves….The French white are the best; they are also black, and coloured…Gloves are now also made remarkably cheap of spun silk.

Worsted gloves are of many kinds……Worsted gloves, though not so elegant as others, have a great advantage in their real warmth in cold weather.

The above gloves, of silk, cotton, and worsted, and thread, are now generally woven in the loom; knit gloves formerly so common, being seldom to be met with….Elastic wristbands to gloves are a late improvement.

Lavender Leather Gloves
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gloves, Past and Present, by Willard M. Smith
It was not until the thirteenth century that the ladies of Europe blossomed forth in gloves—not of the mitten variety, but boasting four fingers as well as a thumb. The first to be introduced for the fair sex were made of linen, of simple design, and reached to the elbows to accommodate the short-sleeved gowns of the period. Not before Queen Elizabeth’s time, however, did the elaborately embroider, bejeweled and perfumed glove captivate woman’s fancy and satisfy her feminine dreams of beauty and extravagance.

….The truth of the matter was, French glovemakers early had won the first place in Europe. Struggle as she might, it is exceedingly doubtful whether her rival across the Channel [England] ever could have equaled her prestige. In the seventeenth century, Paris and Genoble enjoyed the monopoly of the glove markets of Europe…During the eighteenth century, however, these cities began to cope with Germany, Italy, Austria, and even Russia, in glove-making.

…About the year 1819, Vallet d’Artois, a French glove manufacturer, invented steel punches in three sizes, each of which would cut, or punch, out of leather two dozen gloves at once. This invention was the first step toward the introduction of modern machinery into the glove industry….

By minutely studying hands in the Hospital of Grenoble, [Xavier] Jouvain discovered and wrote out….thirty-two different sizes of hands. He furthermore recognized five types…this made three-hundred-and-twenty different numbers of gloves…he had discovered the caliber [pattern] in 1834 [and patented it]…

A later contribution to the technique of the glove was the modern style of fastener, introduced about 1855, by M. Raymond of Grenoble….Roux gives credit to Raymond for all the various changes and improvements in glove fasteners which we have today.

At the Opera by William Powell Frith
Gloves, by Valerie Cumming
At the beginning of the seventeenth century it was possible to buy all three types of glove that are available to us today, namely leather, fabric and knitted gloves....

--Regarding leather gloves--
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there were a series of inventions in the textile industry and allied trades which mechanized many processes which had previously depended on the employment of large numbers of handworkers. Many of these advances were resisted, either by workers who were afraid of losing their livelihood, or by the master craftsmen who felt that no machine was capable of rivalling the skills and experience of trained workers……It was left to Xavier Jouvin, a young French medical student who came from Grenoble, the centre of French glovemaking, to develop this idea….he invented a glove pattern or caliber which he patented in 1834….All modern methods of glove sizing and pattern cutting are based on Jouvin’s system.

The other major development which speeded up glove manufacture was the adaptation of the sewing machine to the finicky and specialized stitching of the glove trade.

--Regarding fabric and knitted gloves—
Gloves or mittens of linen, silk or cotton and cut out and sewn in the manner of leather gloves, were not originally considered an adjunct of the glovemaking trade. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries they were usually made and supplied by the milliner or dressmaker….The skills required were essentially dressmaking ones, and the gloves or mittens made from fabric were often ordered or purchased because they complemented a particular dress, and because they were cooler and lighter to wear in warm weather or crowded rooms. Their major disadvantage was that they were rarely well fitting, and after one of two wearings they quickly lost their shape and any pretense of fit…..Today fabric gloves are considered a separate category from knitted gloves, but the two areas overlapped considerably during the period 1770-1870.

--The etiquette—
The etiquette of glove wearing was an important feature of nineteenth-century life…

The attributes of the perfect lady, the ideal to which many nineteenth-century writers and journalists in women’s magazines directed the aspirations of the susceptible included small hands and small feet. Hands could be made to appear smaller by being mercilessly crammed into tight gloves (it is no accident that glove stretchers appeared at this time to assist the vain purchaser in easing their gloves)...…

Gloves 1860-80 -- Short leather gloves with long lines of pointing on the back of the hand were worn by men and women of all classes in the latter half of the 19th century…..

Glove Making, The Art & The Craft, by Gwen Emlyn-Jones
As a matter of personal ornament, gloves—as distinct from utilitarian gloves—do not seem to have been in general use in Britain until about the thirteenth century, when women began to wear them, usually of linen and reaching the elbow. It was Queen Elizabeth, some three centuries later, who definitely fixed the glove as part of the etiquette and manners of social life.

Perfumed gloves became so universal that they were often given at the universities to college tenants as well as to guests of distinction. They are mentioned by Shakespeare. Winter’s Tale sings of ‘Gloves as sweet as damask rose’, and in Much Ado About Nothing Hero says to Beatrix—‘These gloves the Count sent me, they are an excellent perfume.’ Incidentally, Shakespeare’s father was a glover.

Lady with Gloves
Holly Sheen Collection
Hints on Etiquette (1837)
[To men] Do not insist upon pulling off your glove on a very hot day when you shake hands with a lady. If it be off, why, all very well; but it is better to run the risk of being considered ungallant than to present a clammy ungloved hand.

[Both sexes] Always wear your gloves in church or in a theatre.

[Women] Ladies should never dine with their gloves on – unless their hands are not fit to be seen.

The Behavior Book: A Manual for Ladies (1855)
Above all, do not travel in white kid gloves. Respectable women never do.

It is not admissible to try on kid gloves in a store. After buying a pair, ask for the glove-stretcher, (which they keep in all good shops, for the convenience of the customers,) and then stretch the gloves upon it, unless you have a glove-stretcher at home. This will render them easy to put on when you take them into wear. Glove-stretchers are to be bought at the variety stores; or ought to be. They will save many a new glove from tearing.

The American Family Encyclopedia of Useful Knowledge, or Book of 7223 Receipts and Fact (1859) P. 998

Kid gloves, the most beautiful, from their softness, thinness, and elasticity, fitting the hand almost like a second skin. They are white, and dyed of all colours, but white kid is always worn in full dress.

Gloves are made of various materials; leather, silk, linen thread, cotton thread, cotton cloths, and worsted. The good qualities of gloves are strength, warmth in the winter, coolness in summer, elasticity in fitting well, and to be well sewed in the seams. There is a distinction, also, between those which will bear washing and such as will not; likewise in the manner of sewing.

Machines have been lately invented for sewing leather gloves, by which the process is performed more accurately, and which reduces the price.

Thread gloves are either of linen or cotton thread; but it is the former only that are properly known in the shops by the name of thread gloves, though it is now a common practice to pass off cotton thread for linen thread. They are a remarkably cool wear in summer, and bear washing perfectlyly; they are sometimes of unbleached yarn.

Cotton gloves are the cheapest of all, and are dyed of various colours; being warm, they are much in use for common wear.

Silk gloves; these are of various qualities, determined by their weight and the neatness of the workmanship. The French white are the best; they are also black, and coloured. A figured silk net glove has lately come much into use among ladies; it is extremely elegant, and cool in summer. Gloves are now also made remarkably cheap of spun silk.

Worsted gloves are of many kinds…..Worsted gloves, though not so elegant as other, have a great advantage in their real warmth in cold weather…….Elastic wristbands to gloves are a late improvement.

Cotton Gloves
Metropolitan Museum of Art
P. 1076

Wash-leather gloves, as their name implies, may be easily washed with soap and water; when nearly dry, the fingers should be stretched with a piece of wood.


White and coloured kid gloves are more difficult to clean; but it is said they may be cleaned perfectly by laying them on a clean towel, rubbing them with a piece of flannel dipped in a hot, strong lather of white soap, till the dirt is removed, using as little water as possible. Hang them up at a distance from the fire to dry gradually, and after they are quite dry, pull out the shrivels and stretch them on the hand.

Peterson’s, February 1860
A Paris letter writer states that, as an addition to the ball-room toilet, the distinguished perfumer and glove-maker, Faguer, stitches the white kid gloves with blue, pink, or violet silk, according to the color of the robe with which the gloves are to be worn. The glove, fastened with two buttons on the back of the wrist, is also a novelty.

Peterson’s, April 1860
There is a new caprice in gloves, which has the merit of novelty, if not of beauty—none other than the long Spanish gloves, embroidered in gold or silver, and which will soon, they say, become indispensable additions to a grand toilet.

Peterson’s, September 1860
Kid gloves, or those of Saxon leather embroidered, may now, more easily than ever, be found to match the colors of the dress, for we see them of several new tints, such as gillyflower, deep green, and blue; but very light gloves, as straw or maize, will always be the most stylish, and the only ones that form a suitable complement to an elegant toilet.

Peterson’s, October 1860
The Venetian gloves, which we noticed last winter as a great novelty, are now quite popular. These gloves are embroidered, and bound with a color contrasting with that of the leather, and fasted above the wrist by six small gilt buttons.

Etiquette For All or Rules of Conduct (1861)
Gloves, trifling as they may appear, give the finishing touch to a lady’s dress. They should invariably be worn when out of doors, whether visiting, shopping, at church, concerts, or any place of amusement or public resort. White gloves are worn only in full dress; the colour of the dress should regulate the hues of those worn on other occasions.

English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, by C. Willett Cunnington
Paris kid [gloves], two button….one button…
Gauntlet gloves for wearing with ‘yachting jackets’

Peterson’s, April 1862
Kid gloves of light color, with one or two buttons, and embroidered in little squares at the back of the hand, are the most distingue.

Peterson’s, February 1864
These now indispensable articles of the toilet were not generally deemed necessary in England until the days of Queen Anne, although their origin is of sufficient antiquity for Xenophon to mention them as a proof of the effeminancy of the Persians. We have Cicero’s authority for saying their use was long customary with the Romans. In the middle ages, gloves were used only by the aristocracy of England, and highly ornament. Even when general in Queen Anne’s time, they were so highly esteemed as to form a customary New Year’s gift.

Peterson’s Magazine, December 1864
Those pleasing hues of yellow, brown, or tan color, are readily imparted to leather gloves, by this simple process; Steep saffron in soft, boiling water for twelve hours; then, having sewed up the tops of the gloves to prevent the dye from staining the insides, wet them over with a sponge dipped into the liquid. The quantity of saffron, as well as of water, depends on how much dye maybe wanted, and their relative proportions on the depth of color required. A common teacup will contain quite sufficient in quantity for a single pair of gloves.

Ecru Leather Gloves
Holly Sheen Collection
Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1860
Where dancing is expected to take place, no one should go without new kid gloves; nothing is so revolting as to see one person in an assembly ungloved, especially where the heat of the room, and the exercise together, are sure to make the hands redder than usual.....

Straw-colored gloves, with two buttons, and worked with lavender color.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1861
…The gloves have two buttons at the wrist and scalloped tops.

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 our belles.

White bonnets are the most becoming to all complexions, but should almost invariably have white strings, to admit of any color dress being worn, as strings of an opposite and not harmonious contrast will spoil the whole appearance of the toilet. The same remark may be applied to the gloves, which should be in strict union with the dress, and if possible, be obtained of the same hue, and where not, steel or stone, or drab-colored or black, for ordinary wear, and lemon-colored for dress.

Godey’s, Lady’s Book, 1862
Gants de Swede, or undressed kid gloves with embroidered backs, are now very fashionable. They are to be had of all colors and styles, and are less expensive than the finished kid gloves.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1863
Uniformity of color is one of the principal characteristics of a fashionable toilet at the present day. In Paris, ladies adopt one color for bonnet, mantle, dress, gloves, boots, and parasol. Frequently, also, the petticoat is of the same color.

To Wash White Thread Gloves and Stockings—
These articles are so delicate as to require great care in washing, and they must not on any account be rubbed. Make a lather of white soap and cold water, and put it into a saucepan. Soap the gloves or stockings well, put them in, and set the saucepan over the fire. When they have come to a hard boil, take them off, and when cool enough for your hand, squeeze them in the water. Having prepared a fresh cold lather, boil them again in that. Then take the pan off the fire, and squeeze them well again, after which they can be stretched, dried, and then ironed on the wrong side.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1864
We saw at Stewart’s quite a novelty in kid gloves. They were of light colors covered with little waving lines or small stars or pin dots. We mention these merely as a novelty, for they are far from pretty. We particularly admire the buff, stitched with black, and the pure white ones.

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

Hillgrove’s Ball Room Guide and Practical Dancer (1863)
The gloves should fit to a nicety.

Gloves should be removed at the supper-table. Servants in waiting are the only persons privileged to wear them.

The Fashionable Dancer’s Casket or the Ball-Room Instructor (1856)
The gloves should fit to a nicety.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow with gloves that "fit to a nicety!"

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