We take gloves today so much for granted. I expect that you, like me,
have a drawer-full of assorted types and materials and that's without
counting gardening, cycling and rubber gloves! We tend to forget that
in times past, gloves symbolised nobility and power as well as purity
Used originally in warfare, the widespread use of gloves as fashion
accessories did not begin until the early seventeenth century. Typically
made from deer, sheep and kid-skins, gloves became decorative
garments in their own right adorned with elaborate gold and silver
embroidery and often bejewelled with precious stones. This was also
the time of the birth of fabric and knitted gloves. However, those did
not communicate the social status and prestige that highly decorated
leather gloves and gauntlets did, particularly if they were made of
finest Spanish leather from Cordoba tanned with a special vegetable
process that left it both waterproof and soft.
Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, large quantities of tanned hides and calf skins were sent yearly around the coast from East Anglian ports, particularly Ipswich and Woodbridge, to London, where it was said, the leather was much valued by shoemakers in particular because it was stronger than any other leather. Far more leather came to London by this route than in any other recorded way.
Although Norwich was predominantly a cloth town, it nevertheless contained a large number of leather workers. Between 1548 and 1719, 1,079 leather craftsmen were made freemen of the city, that is just over 10 per cent of the new enrolments. Worsted weavers and leather workers between them formed about 40 per cent of the industrial and commercial population of the city.
After Royalty, Judges, Clergy and Freemasons were of the orders who wore gloves and until the mid-19th century, it was customary to give gloves as tokens to guests at weddings and to mourners at funerals. The formalities of glove-wearing gradually lost sway until the 1940's and 50's when something of a more glamorous renaissance occurred. Ladies' glove styles emerged in new synthetic materials and perhaps the most alluring examples of glove-wearing were by those fabulously-dressed Hollywood stars who wore close-fitting net or satin virtually up to their armpits! The trend was short-lived, though I can remember old ladies in their crocheted lace gloves and myself as a teenager occasionally donning white cotton gloves for Sunday walks!
It's all a far cry from my snugly synthetic 'every-day' gloves though I do treasure several pairs in leather of different shades hoarded over the years to complement my smarter boots and shoes.