Vintage 101: The Joy of Gloves

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.


  1. More lovely laundry line shots Nicole!

    I have a bit of an–ahem–problem with gloves…I love them hopelessly, especially in colors. Your candy pink sound delectable!

  2. I just love gloves! Thanks for the tip about cleaning them with handsoap, the light ones just pick up so much grime and dust throughout the day πŸ™

  3. I love this post! I’ve been reading about how to wash my kid gloves (from the olde booke, 1935) but I don’t believe it . I like to hear from someone who’s done it πŸ™‚ I love gloves, and I can’t wait to wear mine…

    love the story with the bread and gloves…

  4. i love how organised you are to do the gloves in big coloured wash loads together…thought the hills hoist shot looks like a whole lotta bats on a wire….do you know Lin Onus’ sculpture?

  5. Edie, I’m not familiar with Onus’ work but I did a search and I found Fruit Bats which is similar! And wonderful – thank you for pointing me at his work, he was interesting artist.

    A sad postscript to my white glove wash is that many have been spotted by the pegs – we’ll get the marks off but next time I’ll be drying them flat on a towel. My pegs get a lot of use and sit out in the weather, I guess it takes white gloves to show that they’re not immaculate.

  6. Lots of nice info there thanks Nicole! The picture of the gloves all hung up on the line is so interesting. I wonder what your neighbours must think if they saw them teehee (though I suppose they know about your shop!).

    Where did the ladies of the past keep their gloves while dining out etc? where they just crammed in handbags I wonder or where they not taken off at all?

  7. Nicole! Enjoyed this article immensely. Packed full of useful info & cleaning tips [do’s & do not’s]. Those nasty pegs! Like to place mine flat on portable clothing dryer when there is SUN in the UK!!Thanks for sharing!

  8. That is so fascinating! I had no idea our hand sizes had altered over the years. And all those gloves on the line look like birds roosting. xx

  9. Thanks for all your comments everyone!
    Esz, your question is an interesting one – I might do a follow up post with photos of what ladies did with their gloves. Specific accessories were required!

  10. Can not wait for the follow*up post!! I have a few glove holders from the USA in my vintage stash [c.1940s/50s]. A lady would attach this clip with an attached chain to the handle or zipper of a handbag. The contraption would safely hold gloves to keep them safe and clean. xox

  11. I still have this newsletter in my inbox, along with many others! I had always meant to check out the blog entry to read others’ resonses because I thoroughly enjoyed this too. Everyone: keep up the ‘Dolce Vita’ moments!

  12. Cheers! Many thanks for taking time to create these well-considered thoughts… just love it!… and I’m looking forward to sharing your very helpful article… All the best!

  13. Hi Nicole! I bought a pair of lovely vintage kid leather gloves.. they are a bit worn out… do you know of a good way to dye them , so they don’t shrink and may be stretch a bit… all dyes I came across require the water to be boiling….hmmm…. boiling water + vintage leather… what do you think would be the best way? Thank you!!

  14. Hi Ekaterina, hmm. Tricky. You could try Kraft Kolour as they specialise in dyes and have the best range but a better option might be to seek advice from someone who dyes leather, ie a cobbler. Evan’s leather in Royal Arcade dye shoes and have the materials. Dying leather is more complex than fabric. If it was me, I’d be inclined to get a product like raven oil in a matching colour and paint it on.

    Presumably the colour is uneven and that’s why you want to dye, so it may be best to apply the colour as needed, rather than evenly all over as the latter technique would still result in unevenness. I hope this helps.

  15. I will try!!!!! Thank you for the tip!! Yes, the gloves are black and worn out , but not ripped or damaged in any way. which is really cool! and ALMOST fit my size 8 hand…. the gloves also have some really cool beadwork .. I’m so excited… my only concern is, if the dye bleeds through, it will stain my hands every time I sweat… I guess I can just be super careful to get it on the seems

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