History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

13 September 2010


Whenever I give a costume workshop, there is always one topic that catches fire and sets off almost endless questions. In Orlando, this topic was gloves. When were they worn? When were they taken off? What were the "rules"?

This is the kind of minutia that writers obsess about. It's entirely possible that someone out there has an etiquette guide from the 18th or early 19th century. I've never encountered one, so what you'll find here is simply my understanding of "the rules".

One tiny thing to clear up first: During the Georgian and Regency era, gloves do not have that tiny, pearl-buttoned opening at the wrist that we all associate with long opera gloves. That sexy little detail is Victorian (and late Victorian from what I understand).

On to "the rules" . . . If a lady expected to be outside her own home, she wore gloves. So, if she's riding, traveling, visiting, shopping, going to a ball, or the the theatre, she's should be wearing gloves. Inside her own home, the only time she would normally wear them is if she was hosting a ball or party (gloves being a traditional part of formal wear).

When does she take them off in public? To eat. If she is at a ball and is taken in to supper, she removes her gloves and sets them in her lap. If she is visiting a friend and is served tea, the same "rule" applies. Why? Because gloves are expensive and stain easily. If she's visiting a friend and intends to stay for a long period of time, she might also remove them, and leave them with her hat and coat. Try to think of it as the difference between being formal and being relaxed. A relaxed gossip with your best friend does not require gloves.

So, any questions?Anyone want to point me at an early etiquette book?


Blogger Cecilia Grant said...

No tiny buttons? No tiny buttons? I think you've just ruined my favorite scene in Lord of Scoundrels!

3:46 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...


3:55 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

All my years connected to the military helped me with this one. But it's always fun to read what you have to say on almost any subejct, Isobel.

What about men wearing gloves? Do the same "rules" apply?

4:15 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Yes, Mary. For men the same "rules" apply. I think we REALLY tend to forget that men also wore gloves almost all of the time when they weren't at home.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks for this Isobel. Tucking it away with all of the other Regency clothing gems I have collected from you over the years!

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In one of Louisa May Alcott's books, a character's father goes bankrupt and one of the pity-inducing scrimpings that the poor girl had to endure was from then on she would have to wash her gloves! Her flighty friends were horrified, but she stood that test of character with brave determination. I imagine that it did get expensive to always need pristine new pairs of kid gloves. I have no idea when that custom started, though.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

I do have a bad habit of forgetting that my characters should be wearing hats and gloves. The only time in my life I wore either regularly was in my marching band days, and they were my least favorite parts of the uniform. Though now that I think about it, since our uniforms were like West Point cadet dress uniforms, but in our school colors, we looked pretty dang Regency/Napoleonic in them. Maybe that'll help me remember to glove my characters...

10:24 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I figure that anything you can peel off, pull off with your teeth, or covertly make off with as a souvenir is just damn sexy and well worth remembering, LOL! But then I'm a big fan of clothing and I love making the details do some of the heavy lifting . . . other people are more of the "her gown fell to the floor" school, and I totally respect that.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Isobel! I find gloves are a great accessory for characters--they can be pulled off as you say, slapped down in anger, tugged back on. Like Cecilia I regret the lack of buttons (why didn't I ever think to check that?). They're very handy, I know from personal experience (I have a lovely pair I wear to black tie events) for when one needs to eat. I'm going to have to make some changes in the Vienna Waltz galleys. Glad you posted your blog with time for me to do so!

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a book on etiquette from 1840, although I don't see any mention of gloves. I'm having trouble finding earlier guides on Google Books.

Etiquette for Ladies

6:27 PM  

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