Gloves have been worn by both men and women from ancient times. They can be utilitarian as well as decorative. In Tudor England, gloves were worn to both protect laboring hands from the cold and damage and by the upper classes to protect and keep their hands smooth. Smooth hands meant you were wealthy enough not to have to perform manual labor.
Gloves were typically worn by the upper classes either on their hands, in their hat or belt, or held in their hands. 17th century portraits show us myriad examples of glove construction, decoration and handling. Coarse leather gloves were made from doe skin while the softest were made from sheep, goat and kid skin.
Gloves were popular as gifts given, perhaps, by a young gallant to his favorite mistress. The throwing down of a gauntlet (or glove with a wide and elaborate cuff) was a sign of challenge in combat. Queen Elizabeth I wore gloves longer than her fingers with rings over her gloves. The Queen might decide to give away a pair of her gloves as a social favor to a courtier.
At Agecroft Hall, we have two beautiful pairs of gloves we like to highlight. The materials used to construct them and the decoration on them speak to the wealth of the people who wore them.
This pair of brown leather gloves dates from 1600. The gloves are lined with pink silk and stitched with metallic thread - expensive materials to buy. The cuffs are wide and constructed of gold silk with an embroidered floral pattern in metallic thread and trimmed with applied lace (looped) in metallic thread. Gloves were often scented with perfume to conceal bad smells.
These gloves date from 1650 They are called “sweet gloves”. Sweet gloves were often given as gifts - a late 16th century custom originating in court circles on the continent. Two bands of silver lace are applied to the cuff, and a band of rose colored silk lines the cuff. Gloves of this style were worn by both women and men. They may have been imported from France or Cordova, Spain, but the English were making their own gloves of this style after 1580. They were perfumed with almond or civet from Spain - a permanent (but unidentified) scent. The fingers are about the same length and were unusually long - sometimes stuffed or padded.
Mittens were also worn in Tudor England. Wealthier people wore fancy mittens with embroidery on the hands as well as the cuffs and with a separate thumb. Some mittens were slit across the palm for the fingers to be slipped through. Mittens for the wealthy could be constructed with velvet and satin while those of the lower classes would be made of leather or knitted wool.
Fun Fact: William Shakespeare's father was a glover in Stratford.