I recently went to an event introducing a vintage fashion collection. A number of people attending were attired to give vintage style a nod, but one woman stood out for her beautiful complete ensemble of excellently fitted 1950s dress suit, hat, shoes, bag, makeup, and hair. Everything seemed in place for a period-perfect ensemble and she was wearing the clothing with panache, but when someone asked why she wasn’t wearing gloves she said, “I never know how to wear them—the etiquette, you know?”
If, like her, you love the look of vintage gloves but are afraid you’ll get it wrong, keep reading.
Etiquette books with sections covering glove wear wound down by the 1970s. Not that all glove use disappeared then, but with the casualness of the times gloves just didn’t play the part they once did. You can still find advice on glove etiquette for brides—and the basics haven’t changed substantially since the time when gloves were de rigueur—but now wearing decorative gloves is almost always a matter of taste.
Essentially, the glove-wearing rules from their heyday years of the twentieth century are common sense. See if you can predict which of these are dos and which are don’ts according to Edith Heal’s 1961 booklet for the Hansen Glove Corporation, Gloves: Fashion and Etiquette.
Do you or don’t you:
1. Eat with gloves on
2. Keep gloves on in a receiving line
3. Wear gloves in a place of worship
4. Play cards with gloves on
5. Apply makeup with gloves on
6. Remove gloves at the dining table
7. Drink with gloves on
8. Wear short gloves to a white tie affair
9. Wear a ring on the outside of your glove
(Answers: 1. Don’t, 2. Do, 3. Do, 4. Don’t, 5. Don’t, 6. Do, 7. Don’t, 8. Don’t, 9. Don’t)
Even though you probably got these right or see the reason for the correct answer, there are small details which, when you are not privy to glove-wearing rules on a regular basis, could seem foreign.
But first, let’s be honest: Not too many people care if you are wearing gloves correctly anymore. The use of gloves is mainly practical now, and the decorative glove is almost completely optional.
And decorative they certainly can be. So long as you are not the one trying for a period-perfect look, you can probably just use your common sense about when the gloves would be better removed than worn. If you wish to employ vintage-style glove etiquette, I can suggest seeking guidelines from your era of choice. After I heard that well-dressed woman say she didn’t feel confident in wearing gloves, I went looking for vintage glove advice, and there are plenty of resources. For all things mid-century etiquette, try the 1948 Vogue’s Book of Etiquette by Millicent Fenwick.
Vintage gloves often have numbered sizes, usually stamped inside. Your modern gloves are probably one-size-fits-all, or perhaps S, M, L, or XL, but vintage gloves were sized more precisely based on the circumference of the hand. To find your glove size, circle your hand with a cloth measuring tape at its widest part, excluding your thumb. The number you get, usually between 6” and 9” (15.2 and 22.9 cm) in half-inch increments, is your glove size. There are variations in sizing with vintage gloves as with all other vintage garments, but gloves aren’t the world’s most difficult to wear in a slightly off size. Almost all vintage gloves were made of a material with give. A very firmly stretchy and sturdy knit fabric called simplex was often used for vintage gloves in the decades around the middle of the twentieth century. Leather too has give, and nearly always was expected to stretch to “fit like a glove” over time. If a vintage seller does not include the size, you should ask for the circumference of the glove at the middle of the hand.
Glove lengths are sometimes given by name, and sometimes by button length, whether or not there are buttons. A vintage brochure from the Hansen Glove Corporation shows both:
Dolores del Rio wore a sequined gown coordinated with opera-length gloves in this publicity shot for the 1938 movie International Settlement:
Excerpted from Wear Vintage Now! Choose It, Care for It, Style It Your Way by VFG member Maggie Wilds/denisebrain
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