A Short History of Gloves


 A Short History of Gloves

Gloves are an interesting piece of fashion history, and a particularly intriguing item in the context of medieval society. Wearing gloves was a status symbol at the time, which had its downsides (nobles were sometimes targeted by thieves on account of their costly accessories) as well as upsides (medieval ladies would often keep their gloves close to them, to shelter them from any potential unpleasantness). In this article, we will be exploring the fascinating history of these pieces of fabric.

The invention and rise to prominence of the glove is something historians have been sussing out for centuries now. It's not entirely clear where exactly the first gloves were invented, although there are some lovely legends (such as the fingerless glove of Etruscan ladies) which credit it to an ancient past. But it is clear that people began wearing gloves around the time of the Roman Empire, as leather gloves appeared in Egyptian tombs dating from around 2000 BC. Archaeologists have even found leather glove remnants from the 15th century BC (1400 BC in another version), and it was widely believed that these ancient Egyptians were among the first to wear them.

However, the first written account of gloves as we know them was in the Annals of Tacitus (the Roman historian who lived from 55 to 117 AD). He tells that King Numa Pompilius was so concerned about the cold weather in the region, and about any potential barbarian attacks that he ordered his people to make him suits of armor. As he was a well-liked man, he did not mind wearing these armor suits into public, which led to a number of people mocking him. As a result, Numa had his men cut off his hands and sewing his fingers into sleeves made out of animal hides. This was, of course, a very effective way to keep him warm in public, but it was comical as well.

As we move further into medieval times (500-1300), gloves began to take on a slightly different form. As the fashion of wearing armor had been discoraged, gloves were thought of as a "bridge" between the naked hands and the arms of the wearer. They were still mostly worn in colder climates (as gloves could protect against frostbite), but they also began being worn in more temperate climes such as northern Europe. Gloves from this period were often brightly colored, or covered with fluffy fur lining. However, they were still very much associated with the nobility and the upper classes, as poorer people were unable to afford them (especially given that they were made out of expensive materials such as silk).

The Black Death in 1348 changed all of that. This terrible event killed a third of Europe, and forced people to rethink their priorities. The Church was urged by Pope Clement VI to refrain from using clerics in lower ranking burials because there weren't enough priests left for such tasks. Because of this scarcity of clergy (and the fact that all land was now owned by nobles), churches began using laity for burial rites.


Gloves have come a long way from ancient Egypt, and they're still around today. We make absolutely no claims regarding their usefulness or practicality, that's a story for a different time. But we hope that this article has taught you a little bit about the interesting history of gloves. Now put them on and go outside for some springtime fun!


Thomas J. Schmidt, "A Short History of Gloves," http://www.crossroads-antiques.com/articles/glovshistory.shtml (accessed March 24, 2016).

Post a Comment