News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 30, 2012

HISTORICAL TREASURE: A look at glove etiquette and grace

Kimberly Smith
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As a child of the polyester 1970s, the fashions of previous decades have always fascinated me. Wearing hats and gloves for everyday errands or for an evening out seemed so classy and graceful. Growing up, I would often try on my mother’s gloves and think about the outfits they accessorized; however, the questions of why and how such things were worn always lingered.

Some 30-plus years later, as I was assisting in gathering women’s gloves and hats for a recent display at the Vigo County Historical Museum, some of my questions were finally answered.

Amongst the collection of gloves was a piece of paper titled “Glove Etiquette and the Times.” It was an excerpt from a book with a brief history about gloves and the 20th century version of glove etiquette. From the history, it discusses how gloves were taken off in the presence of royalty to show respect and how different gestures such as a “slap” with a glove were an insult.

From their early use by women, gloves were always used as an adornment to accompany a “costume.” Moving into the 20th Century, gloves were still worn as an accessory meant to compliment one’s outfit and definitely had “do’s and don’ts.”

Along with the brief history was a list of where and how to wear gloves. A few of the favorites are to not “ever appear in public without gloves” and to remove them when dining or “on arrival at a luncheon or dinner party.”

Another piece of etiquette is to keep the gloves on at a cocktail party “… until the drinks and hors d’oeuvres are passed. Then turn gloves back at the wrist or remove one glove.” I think one would have to be quite coordinated and graceful to turn the gloves back without much notice.

While many of the etiquette dos and don’ts seem a bit intuitive, they were meant to create a sense of decorum and grace that, to some, might be lacking these days. To me, they seem a bit frivolous; however, it is the appeal of an overall sense of classiness and grace that I admire.

As we approach the new year and make resolutions, I am reminded about a piece of advice my mother once gave me — to grow old gracefully and mind my manners. And as always, the museum is the place to get those lingering questions answered.