Colourful Leather Gloves

I have unpacked the gloves and placed yours in your drawer. Their colour is light and pretty, and I believe exactly what we fixed on.
Jane Austen to Cassandra, October 27, 1798
"The wearing of gloves by women had been popular since the time of Catherine de Medici, but the Empress Josephine, by her fancy for long gloves, started a nationwide craze, which rapidly spread throughout all Europe and America, during the Napoleonic period. (She actually wore gloves for somewhat prosaic reasons, since she was very dissatisfied with her hands, thinking them ugly...) Napoleonic and Regency (as this period was called in England - this was the era Jane Austen wrote about, and ladies wearing long gloves are often to be seen in films made of her books, such as Sense and Sensibility and Emma) gloves were of many materials and a bewildering variety of colors. Kidskin and cloth were favored materials, and the gloves were often made so that they fitted loosely around the wearer's arm and could be "scrunched" down toward the wrist at the wearer's option.

Starting from about 1810, sleeves began to grow longer, and the length of gloves in most cases shortened correspondingly. However, long gloves were still customarily worn with formal dress until around 1825:

Long gloves first became a staple of women's fashion during the time of Napoleon, the English Regency and the reign of George IV (the former "Regent" of the Regency) (ca. 1795 to 1825). The short sleeves of Greco/Roman-inspired Directory and Empire dresses and gowns were well suited to complementation by long gloves, and their popularity received an additional boost with their frequent wear by the Empress Josephine. Gloves in that period were commonly constructed so as to fit the arm and hand in a looser fashion than gloves of the later Victorian and Edwardian periods, and longer gloves (elbow-length or longer) would often be worn "crumpled" below the elbow. When the longest gloves were stretched out above the elbow, they were often actually held in place by garters. In this gallery, a sampling of representative fashion plates displays long gloves as they were worn during this time. Napoleon himself was a great lover of gloves; he is reported, as of 1806, to have in his wardrobe no fewer than 240 pairs of gloves! He was very much appreciative of beautiful and interesting feminine attire, and encouraged his Empress, Josephine, and the other ladies of his court to dress in the height of style and fashion. For example, at his and Josephine's coronation in 1804, the gloves made for the ceremony cost thirty-three francs per pair, a considerable sum in these days - but then, good gloves have always been costly!" (Severn, p. 38) According to the City of Worcester Museums, the city of Worcester was "famous for it's gloving industry, which reached its peak between 1790 and 1820 when 150 manufacturers of gloves employed over 30,000 people in and around Worcester. At this time nearly half of all glovers in Britain were based in and around the city of Worcester. It is quite possible that Jane Austen wore a pair (or pairs) of gloves manufactured here. Trade was strictly regulated by the government to protect home industries from foreign competition by placing large taxes on goods. Under this system the Worcester glove industry prospered greatly. However during the 19th century the government encouraged free trade eventually lifting taxes in 1826 on foreign gloves. This happened at a time when French gloves had increased in popularity and causing a huge reduction in trade which eventually led to mass employment throughout the city.

While many of the smaller businesses did not survive this period, two of Worcester's most famous gloving firms, Dent Allcroft and Co Ltd. and Fownes Gloves Ltd. survived by reorganising their workforce, introducing a factory system and improving the overall quality of the products. Both these firms went on to become leading glove manufacturers in Europe. "
Quoted with permission from *Hand In Glove, Bill Severn (David McKay, 1965) Gloves and mitts are available in our costume section. Visit our giftshop and escape into the world of Jane Austen.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published