Gloves have been around almost and possibly since man has been around. It is unknown when gloves were invented, however that date has to be close to the date of the invention of shoes, even in a primitive form. Though the invention of such a garment was to protect the hands, the uses, styles and purpose of gloves have shifted numerous times throughout history.
The hunters and gatherers of the stone age required something to keep their hands warm and protected from other elements. This representation of gloves may not have been anything close to having individual fingers, but close to something similar to a mitten. One man had gone through further development, finger holes and more dexterous gloves were developed.
Humans have been sewing, by hand for over 23,000 years. It can be estimated that gloves, similar to the form they are seen in now, with stitched finger holes were first created and used between 18,000 BC, when raw materials were first used and 3,100 BC, during Egypt’s 1st dynasty. Quite possibly the oldest pair of gloves known to exist, are the linen gloves of King Tutankhamun, (1,341 BC – 1,323 BC.) which was some 7,000 years after the end of the stone age. The linen gloves of Tutankhamun were fairly simple as they were made with very few pieces of material. It appears that the palm side and fingers were all made from one piece, which was attached to another material with a pattern that looks like rows of eyes for the back of the hand. The sewing style is similar to that of modern day “inseam” stitch, where the glove is sewn inside-out to hide the seams. Even gloves today don’t seem to be as fashionably colorful as the gloves of Tutankhamun.
In Egypt, it is said that gloves were used to protect the hands of women and worn as a status symbol. Of course, there must have been gloves for protective uses for hunters and other classes of people like workers, yet they may not have been as abundant until millennium later.
Later in history after the birth and death of Christ, gloves carried on their same uses by workers and status icons, only becoming more elaborate in the latter use. Stemming back to the 17th century and beyond, status gloves became increasingly complex with handmade ornate decorations like beads sewing patterns and other embellishments. Gloves at this time mostly had large gauntlet style cuffs. Going into the 19th century, they lost the elaborate cuffs and tremendous embellishments. This lack of embellishment was probably due to the invention of the sewing machine in 1846, when gloves became much easier to make. Along with the sewing machine, new ways of cutting leather were developed like large presses that could cut many pieces at once rather than cut the “trank” out by hand.
With the advent of the sewing machine, the biggest glove boom in history was probably the better part of 50 years between 1890 and 1940. In the early 20th century status gloves became more or less like standard fashion gloves of the 40s and 50s. The typical style of a men’s glove by this time was a simple wrist length glove with three draws on the back of the hand mimicking the tendons in the of the index, middle and ring fingers in the back of the hand. A typical ladies glove would be a gauntlet style glove of 6-8 button length (reaching the mid forearm) with various decorations like stitching and draws on the back of the hand and or buttons and other embellishments. In the mid 20th century gloves were so abundant that the industry was flourishing with anyone who is anyone wearing fashion gloves for every occasion. These styles were popularized by people like Hedy Lamarr and Marilyn Monroe.
In the 50s, it was standard attire for both men and women to have a pair of dress gloves even during the warmer months, particularly in the United States. Popular colors for men were brown or cognac, black, yellow and navy. Popular colors for women were often white or black. This trend lasted until the early 60s, when gloves started to fall off the radar of fashion icons. Gloves expanded in color from white to more colorful tones to match the vibes of the 60s and 70s.
By the time the 80s made way, fashion gloves became a thing of the past and were no longer worn for fashion or comfort, only simply to keep warm in the winter months, where the fashion aspect would become ancillary. Gloves had come to simply black for the most part and did not stray too far from that color. Black became the most popular color because it is the easiest color to match any outfit and one person typically would only own one pair of gloves. Due to this shift in fashion trends, global glove production shifted from the heart of update New York, to China and the Philippines, as well as Pakistan.
Between the 60s and 80s, work and other job-related gloves began to make some improvements on a fairly standard design. New ways of sewing gloves and new materials to be incorporated made gloves ever so stronger for manual labor tasks. In the 90s and early 2000s there was quite an uprising in tactical and military style gloves that presented a different use with higher dexterity and shock resistance than typical deerskin work gloves.
Today it seems that fashion gloves remain to be in a similar state they were in since the 80s being a necessity of warmth rather than a fashion statement. However, developments in production have made gloves easier than ever to produce. Styles seem to be all over the place, incorporating new types of materials, new ways of incorporating these materials into gloves and various “off the reservation” styles of gloves, that don’t really seem like the next step in glove designs. This look could also be a result of the entrance of singular brands, not glove producers entering the glove market.
Yes, gloves can still be seen on the fashion runway, but very seldom and they will typically be a pair that nobody in their right mind would wear. You could say that gloves have reached their equilibrium, not too fancy, not too dull, just a standard impression across the board that is the result of thousands of years of evolution.