Ladies’ Victorian gloves were an essential part of life in the 1840s to 1900 Victorian era. Gloves evened the classes, covering up the rough hands of a working-class or showing off wealth with a fine silk pair for the upper classes. Both ladies and gentlemen would feel naked without a fine pair of gloves. Like the rest of a lady’s outfit, Victorian gloves could be formal or informal. Colors varied for the upper classes. — white or light colors were the most elegant for both day and evening, but matching the gloves to one’s dress was also common practice. With long dress sleeves, gloves were supposed to cover the arm, never showing skin between glove and dress. Ballgowns were an exception but even then very long gloves covered most of the arm.
The following article is largely quoted from Victorian Costume and Costume Accessories by Anne Buck, 1961.
Tip: The only time a lady could remove her gloves was for putting food in her body or removing food from her body. When dressing in the era, try to keep your gloves on at all times. If you are working class, consider fingerless gloves. In summer, net, mesh, or fine lace gloves will be the most breathable. For an interesting discussion of the etiquette of gloves, read here.
Victorian Gloves History
“Gloves are worn so short in the evening that there is space enough between the trimming which finishes them at the top and the bend of the arm for three or four bracelets”. – World of Fashion, June 1837
Victorian ladies’ gloves had been getting shorter for some years. By about 1835, they were half-way between wrist and elbow, and by 1837 covered only a third of this part of the arm. This length remained for evening gloves for the next ten years: “Gloves continue to be worn as they have been for some time past, covering about one-third of the arm and edged with trimmings of lace or ribbon” (Lady’s Newspaper, 1847).
They were usually of white kid, but pale pink and yellow were also worn. The tops of the gloves were usually trimmed with a ruching of ribbon, but sometimes with lace or flowers. After 1847, the trimmed top ceased to be fashionable, but the practice of wearing several bracelets at the top of the glove continued. During these years, gloves were sometimes ornamented with embroidery on the back of the hand, usually a small spray of flowers in colored silks or metal thread. They were usually fastened at the wrist with two to four buttons.
Victorian daytime gloves use were even shorter, just reaching the wrist, fastening with a single button. Buff, yellow or straw- colored kid leather was much used for them. A short, single-button kid glove continued for daytime wear during the 1850s and early 1860s. A silk-tasseled braid and clip were sometimes used for fastening instead of a button, and some have a short lacing of silk braid or cord at the back of the wrist, finished with silk tassels as well. The writer of an article on gloves in the Queen in 1862, welcoming as a sign of the arrival of spring “the countless pairs of mauve, lemon, pink and my favourite pale-grey,” thought these tasselled gloves in bad taste: “Some of the wearers of pink gloves had tassels pendent from their wrists; the pink gloves and the tassels are both in such bad taste that I was glad to see them together”. Many of the surviving gloves of this date are in bright blue or green kid as well as in these pale shades. Most of them are finished with a narrow band of white kid at the wrist, but some are pinked in small scallops. A small stud which can be fastened in two positions was used on many of them instead of a button.
The gloves of day wear also grew longer after 1865. Their length from this time until the end of the century varied from a length just covering the wrist, with one or two buttons, to a length more than half-way to the elbow, with eight or ten; but they were never again as short as those of the first half of the reign, which ended only about an inch beyond the lowest part of the thumb. The length varied to fit the length of the sleeve, and this was a matter of type of dress as well as date: “When the sleeves are short the gloves must cover the elbow” (Ladies’ Treasury, 1882). Gloves of four-button length appear to have been the most general during the 1890s.
During the 1860s, gloves were sewn with contrasting silk stitching, such as cerise on grey or black on tan. The earlier stitching on the back of the hand was usually fine and inconspicuous. During the 1860s, it became decoratively obvious. The looped points of the stitching repeat the patterns seen in the applied braids of dress trimmings. During the 1880s and 1890s, the stitching on the backs of the hands was often very heavy. Black gloves with sewings and welts in white, mauve or red were a fashion of the 1890s, and the taste of this decade for the contrast of black and white appeared again in white gloves heavily stitched in black: “White gloves with black strappings continue to be the smartest and these only give place occasionally to the palest shades of dove-grey and tans” (Lady’s Realm, 1898).
For riding and traveling a gauntlet style of glove was worn from the beginning to the end of the period. In 1862 the Queen illustrated gloves with a fluted border of kid round the wrist “as protection and ornament … to supersede the old- fashioned gauntlet”, but the gauntlet style remained in gloves for riding, driving and country wear. These were sometimes fur- lined and, at the end of the century, often wool-lined, with a gathering at the wrist for warmth.
Short gloves for evening wear were going out of fashion in 1865, when they lengthened to four, five or, six buttons. Victorian evening gloves then continued to get longer, reaching half-way to the elbow during the 1870s, then to the elbow and beyond in the early 1880s, fastening with up to twenty buttons from the wrist to the top of the glove. But many of these long gloves of the 1880s show the alternative fastening of a short opening only over the wrist, buttoning with four buttons. From about 1875 to 1890, many gloves were ornamented with lace and embroidery. Kid gloves had embroidery on the backs of the hands in colored silks or beads. There were also kid gloves frilled with lace at the top, with lace insertions, or with the kid ending just above the wrist, the rest of the glove to the elbow being in a matching, or sometimes contrasting, shade of lace. Grey, cream, tan and black gloves were worn for evening as well as the standard white ones.
Victorian Glove Materials
Kid leather was used for gloves at all times, and was always correct and fashionable. White kid gloves were worn for evening dress throughout the century, varying only in length and fastening. Swedish kid, sometimes mentioned in the fashion notes at the beginning of the period, was most highly regarded for its pleasant scent. Throughout the century, many of the fashionable gloves worn in England were imported from France or made in England from French skins. The skins of many different animals were used for producing the skin known as kid in the finished glove.
Suede gloves appeared in the 1860s and had become very fashionable by 1880. But in 1882, the fashion received a rebuff: “Her Majesty, having forbidden the gant de suede gloves to be worn at the drawing rooms, these are no longer admissible in dress circles” (Ladies’ Treasury, 1882). By 1890, kid was once again the more fashionable for day and evening wear. Gloves of silk and cotton, machine-knitted in plain or openwork fabric, were worn throughout the period, mostly in informal, country or unfashionable wear.
The silk gloves of the 1880s were made in what was beginning to be called silk jersey. Like the kid gloves of this date, they were ornamented with insertions, frills, tops of lace, and embroidery — or, plain silk fabric was simply ruched up the arm. In 1880, gloves of spotted silk matching the fashionable spotted silk dresses were worn. Silk gloves continued to be worn until the end of the century, but were less fashionable by 1890: “Silk gloves have long ceased to be fashionable though thousands of women wear them” (Woman’s World, 1888).
Woollen gloves, knitted by hand or machine, were not fashionably worn, but the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine in 1861 recommended “for ordinary use” gloves of “cashmere very supple and fitting well.”
Mittens, which are often regarded as a characteristically Victorian accessory, were fashionable for a limited period only. They had become fashionable for both day and evening wear, in the early 1830s, and continued to be worn during the 1840s. They were of black or white silk, many hand-netted in a simple openwork mesh, worn plain or with the backs lightly embroidered, in silk of the same colour (Fig. 22, above). Others were made in machine-knitted openwork fabric, giving the effect of a close heavy net. These, too, were plain or embroidered. They were worn short, wrist-length, or long, half-way to the elbow. Long ones could be worn with evening dress and short ones with day dress. The most interesting mittens of this early period are those, usually of black silk, which are embroidered on the backs in a small encrusted pattern in coloured silks, chenille and gold and silver threads, giving the effect of a jewel. These were fashionable in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Later in the 1840s, mittens were netted, crocheted or knitted, like the purses of the time, with gilt or steel beads.
Mittens were not fashionable during the 1850s and 1860s, but were no doubt still worn; some of the very plain examples which survive and are difficult to date may be unfashionable wear of this period. They appeared in fashion again, though not very prominently, in the late 1870s and during the 1880s: “Long mittens are worn with demi-toilettes for dinner, but not for dancing parties. They are made in black and in colours to match the dress” (Queen, 1879). Mittens were sometimes worn with wedding dresses at this time, in white or cream silk. Like the openwork of silk stockings of the time, they came in machine-knitted openwork patterns of fine silk. Usually, they were made in formal meshed patterns, but some were worked with a floral design. Netted Mittens were netted in black netting, silk darned in colours, or in cotton darned in blue wool. Mittens were not fashionable during the 1890s; but in 1900 and the early years of the twentieth century, lace mittens, sometimes of hand-made lace, became fashionable, and silk open-work mittens, like those of the 1880s, were again worn.
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Besides gloves, another item a lady would feel incomplete without would be her purse. They were small since ladies didn’t have a need for wallets, makeup, or cell phones. What they lacked for in size, however, they made up for in exquisite detail. If you could afford it, purses were sewn with intricate glass beaded designs and closed with brass or silver clasps. These are highly collectible today. Carry one to your next Victorian party and your purse will be an immediate attraction. Look here for the history of Victorian purses.
Hats came in all shapes and sizes and carried different purposes depending on the decade, your class, and your activity. Except for lace head dresses, hats were worn for outdoor activities or when traveling between visiting friends. Bonnets were lower class and mostly provided shade or covered hair from the elements. Stylish hats matched a wealthy lady’s dress and grew increasingly more decorated as the Victorian era progressed. Read about late Victorian/Edwardian picture hats here.
Most stylish hats were held into place by hat pins. Hat pins are strong metal pins with a blunt pointed tip that pierced through the hat and into the ladies hair. One pin was usually enough to hold a hat in place. The end of the pin was decorated in large glass beads and jewels. Shop hats pins at Victorian Trading Co.
TIP: Not all hat pins are made alike. If you can easily bend the pin, then keep looking. A flimsy pin rod won’t pierce a felt hat or hold your picture hat to your hair very well. Test the hat pin before you buy or ask the seller what the gauge it is before making this common mistake.
So much can be said about Victorian jewelry. It is highly ornate and very collectible. However, there is one piece that was exceedingly popular yet is not discussed much today. The brooch. A Victorian brooch is a large pin usually depicting a portrait of a lady or Greek goddess. Other brooch styles were gold plated intricate patterns or large gems surrounded by a detailed frame.
TIP: Brooches are best worn on a high neck dress or blouse on the upper left side. The less ornamentation on your dress, the easier it is to show of your brooch. They are an instant way to dress up a plain outfit for day or night events.
Since many fashionable hats were stylish but impractical for protection from the sun, a lady would need a parasol. Almost always made of solid material or white lace, parasols were useful as well as decorative. Fancy handles featured intricately carved designs in wood or even ivory. Shop Victorian Style Parasols here.
TIP: Small and dainty parasols might be what is portrayed in movies, but it is not historically accurate. A parasol’s true purpose was to shade your face, neck and arms from the sun. The more skin you have exposed, the larger your parasol would need to be. The exception would be Carriage Parasols which needed to be small enough to fit inside a carriage.