During these rather unprecedented times, the talk of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has never been so prevalent. Gloves are one item worn by the wonderful front-line workers who put themselves in harms way so we can maintain a small amount of normality.

Gloves in this context refer to a ‘uniform’, an item of clothing worn to protect the hands at work which are usually the same as a colleagues. I’ll be sharing some gloves from our collection that are worn for fashion, as opposed to a uniform. Unlike PPE latex gloves, these ones are made of kid leather and silks. 

Gloves have a long history. When King Tutankhamun was excavated in 1922, a small pair of linen gloves were re-discovered. They’re perhaps the oldest pair of gloves known gloves in the world, being made somewhere between 1,341 BC – 1,323 BC. We don’t have any gloves in the collection as ancient but we do have some fantastic examples dating from the early 1600s onwards. Until quite recently, gloves had a prominent place in a fashionable person’s wardrobe. 

A glove that looks very worn, but has beautiful embroidery on the wrist.

A gauntlet glove, dating from the early 1600s.

This is a gauntlet glove dating to the first half of the 1600s. Gauntlet refers to the additional fabric that flares out a little at the wrist. During this period, the gauntlet is usually highly decorated with metal and silk threads. In the 1600s, gloves had strong social importance outside of their value for warmth and protection. They were not only worn to convey wealth and status, but to keep up with social etiquette. They served as an accessory that could not only be worn on the hand, but upon a hat or belt. They were popular gifts sent from one wealthy family to another. It was also a taboo to shake another’s hand if wearing a glove. Oh, how times have changed…

A pair of well worn gloves, with embroidery on the hand.

Embellished gloves from the 1700s.

This pair of gloves date to around 1700. You’ll notice the change in location of the decoration, but still the glove is embellished with metal threads. This time we see raised work sewn to form birds. This type of glove would finish at the elbow and was worn by a woman. They are not your every day type of glove! Gloves remained highly fashionable for both men and women well into the 1800s. Social etiquette also remained fairly unchanged from the 1600s. It is suggested that gloves were one of only a few gifts that a man could present to a woman who was not yet his wife. 

A very long pair of well worn white gloves.

A pair of gloves from a formal evening wear ensemble, dating from the 1880s.

By the end of the 1800s, it was no longer deemed fashionable to wear gloves indoors. The only reason you were expected to was at an evening ball. The gloves grew longer, past the elbow and extended to the upper arm. This pair of gloves from around 1880 would form part of a woman’s formal evening wear ensemble. 

The turning point for glove-wearing was in the 1960s, when counterculture really took hold of youth groups. No longer did young adults want to dress like their parents as they had done before: they wanted something new and non-conformist. Fashion gloves were no longer on the agenda. 


By Vanessa Jones, Assistant Curator of Dress and Textiles

Discover more about our Dress and Textiles collection.

Contact Leeds Discovery Centre to find out more about the gloves in our collection.