The History of Gloves

The History Of Gloves

The Worshipful Company Of Glove-Makers & The Thrill & History Of Gloves.

By Tyne O’Connell

Autumn means the changing colours of the leaves, dance-cards, balls, crisp mornings and the thrill of pulling on one’s first pair of gloves.

Tyne with long gloves

Gloves whether from Budd Shirtmakers in the Piccadilly Arcade or Pickett off the Burlington Arcade, remain the most unimpeachable gift for dandies and dandizettes or chaps and chapesses of all ages. 

Britain’s great love of “gloves as art” began 375 years ago upon the marriage of one of Prince William’s great Stuart ancestors,  Charles I to the wildly-beautiful eccentric, Henrietta Marie de Medici.

Her magnificent dowry included – amongst the rubies, gold, diamond and pearls – the greatest collection of Artemisia Gentileschi and Van Dyck paintings in the world. But the De Medici dowry was fabled, not just for the quality, but the quantity of its numerous grand collections, one of which was gloves. Queen Henrietta Marie arrived in England with the world’s greatest collection of gloves made of all manner of exotic textiles, skins and leathers and bejewelled with rubies, diamonds and threaded with gold. So essential were gloves to her happiness, she travelled with her own glove maker, which surely is the non plus ultra of luxury.

The history of gloves

Imagine the thrill of ordering up a pair of kid-skin gloves encrusted with seed-pearls, before one’s first cup of Countess Grey and marmalade toast.  The idea alone makes my heart flutter and puts all disagreeable ideas from my mind. Gloves certainly trump anti-depressants when it comes to putting a spring in a girl’s step.

Upon Queen Henrietta Marie’s arrival in England she presented King Charles I with a majestic pair of buckskin gloves so spectacular he was moved to issue a special charter to glove makers in 1638 elevating gloves to the status of artworks and their makers to artisans. The Worshipful Company of Glove Makers existed well before King Charles I – in fact since 1349, fixing the price of gloves and ordering that they may not be sold by candlelight as “folk could not tell whether they were of good or bad leather or lawfully or falsely made”.

Under King Charles I gloves became art and essential part of the Cavalier costume and glove makers prospered as artisans. 

Many people embarked upon following the Queen’s pursuit in creating their own large, private, glove collections. 

The Worshipful Company of Glove makers continue to issue The Golden Glove Award every August,  so that glove makers strive to ever greater realms of excellence. 

The criteria for the prize include: uniqueness in concept, design or production, technique and most essentially, the level of comfort and fit. 

In the history of gloves, gloves, like all items of exquisite beauty art or pleasure, fell foul of Cromwell’s Roundheads during the Civil War. 

The Roundheads in their utilitarian uniform of unadorned rough-hewn shapeless black wool, mocked the Cavaliers for their “dandy” attire which favoured exquisitely crafted gloves as part of their costume. 

The expression, “laying down the gauntlet” refers to removing one’s finest gloves before battle to avoid smudges or blood spills on treasured  gloves.  

The history of gloves in Mayfair

Though Cromwell’s murder of King Charles I wasn’t solely a matter of gloves, gloves  were symbolic of Cromwell’s dream to ban all articles or activities of beauty art or pleasure. A dream he realised during The Commonwealth 1649-1659 when his New Model Army destroyed all glove artworks and beautiful or decorative attire or jewellery, burning them on fires across the country and banning the creation or wearing of gloves and having a devastating effect on the history of gloves.

On May 29th 1660 as King Charles II, his mother Queen Henrietta Marie and their Court rode through the streets of London on the occasion of the Restoration of the Stuart Monarch, the fountains flowed with champagne and men, women and children lined the streets, throwing flowers and waving their gloves to welcome their Merry Monarch. 

Upon his coronation, The Worshipful Company of Glove maker’s formally presented Charles II with a pair of gloves. This tradition is maintained to this day.

Prince Philip, who in munificence awarded me the title of “Most Eccentric British Thinker” last year as patron of The Eccentrics Club, speaks often of his habit of always carrying a pair of gloves as it gives him something to do with his hands during his daily hours spent meeting and greeting the public. 

White-tie is the only costume that still demands a gentleman wear gloves, but to me a chap always looks half naked sans gloves. 

The current Royal Warrant for gloves is held by Cornelia Jones

In the history of gloves – fine gloves have always been readily found in Mayfair at Pickett or Budd or Turnbull & Asser