The weather is so lovely today, perfect for catching up on some laundry for the shop. As you know, everything at Circa is cleaned before it goes in, and for most items of vintage clothing that entails hand washing.
Today I’m tidying up all the bits and pieces that haven’t fitted into previous wash days and that includes a big bag of gloves. I collect them throughout the year and every few months, do a big wash – this is a smaller one than usual.
Here’s a pic from an earlier Glove Day. I bought the local shop out of pegs before doing this one:
Today I divided them into plains and coloureds – plains are the whites, the creams and the beiges. Most vintage gloves come in these colours, and as unexciting as they are to our modern eye, they were the perfect companion to an outfit back in the day. And, of course, they usually matched her shoes and handbag.
These are the plains – the coloureds are next. I’m excited about some of those: there’s a long pair of ’50s gloves in candy pink and another in royal blue. I love coloured gloves.
This seems like a good opportunity to say a few words about vintage gloves. I believe that there is no easier way to glam up an outfit than to add gloves – it’s an accessory that whilst being essential in the past (every lady would put them on as she left the house) is rarely seen these days, out of very formal occasions like weddings and balls. Like the hat, they’ve been mostly relegated to history.
The vintage lover will find gloves where ever she turns – but if she chooses to wear them, she will soon encounter a size issue: our hands (much like our heads and our feet) are larger than our grandmothers. In the past, gloves came in sizes and the size was your shoe size. The most common sizes are 6, 6 1/2, 7 and 7 1/2. Whether you can fit your modern hands into them depends in part on the style and the fabric. For ladies with either broad hands or a foot larger than size 8, Circa stocks a range of new gloves alongside the vintage gloves. They’re made of stretchy polyester. They don’t come in the variety of styles, colours and fabrics that their vintage sisters do, but they will fit.
Most vintage gloves come in cotton or nylon, occasionally in rayon or silk. All can be a bit stretchy depending on the weave – knits are best. Most of the vintage gloves we find in Australia are from the 1950s or 1960s – during the latter decade their use gradually declined although older ladies still wore them because they were used to it (it must have been a shock when young ladies started going without. This is of course a big reason why Jean Shrimpton was so shocking in 1965 at Derby Day).
Ladies would have large collections of them – when I buy an entire personal wardrobe I often find that there are twenty or more pairs stashed away. One lady had 74 pairs, all in cream! They used special glove soap to clean them (nowadays, I just use hand washing liquid).
The length of the glove worn was dictated by the style of sleeve and time of day:
– wrist and bracelet (half way up your lower arm) lengths suited day dresses and ensembles, usually worn in plain white, cream or beige.
– below the elbow was for an evening event with a short sleeve (eg, party dress)
– above the elbow suits a sleeveless dress (eg cocktail dress)
– opera length, the longest, almost come up to your shoulders – was best for a strapless gown.
During the early 1980s when sophistication made a comeback via the New Romantics, gloves came back into vogue. That was when I first started wearing them and my favourites were a pair of 50s opera length gloves in an intense cobalt. They perfectly matched one of my 50s party dresses, and I wore them to a 21st where upon I drank too much and ripped apart some garlic bread without taking them off.
Later, the birthday boy declared it was the sexiest thing he had ever seen…my gloves might have been ruined but it was worth it for my Dolce Vita moment.