The Glove Etiquette

Dominique de Merteuil By Dominique de Merteuil6 min read
December 18, 2015

Last Updated on August 1, 2023 by Dominique de Merteuil

Glove etiquette.

A woman without gloves is a marked woman. It’s like going barefoot to be without them. Gloves are traditionally a sign of dignity.

Claire McCardell
1940s gloves


For my vintage winter look, I opted for a pair of long 1940s gloves, a purple hat from the same era and a faux fur cape from Helen Moore.

I love nothing more than the feeling of soft leather or cashmere caressing my skin as I put on my first pair of gloves for the winter season. It’s a sensation that brings with it, its very own special pleasure. Mother Nature can be particularly cruel where I live at this time of year, but she at least brings with her this gift of bliss in disguise, hidden as a private moment shared between one woman and another.

She wasn’t the first to introduce me to the pleasure of gloves though. That claim belongs to Rita Hayworth or more accurately, her character Gilda, in the film of the same name, whose performance inspired me to purchase my first pair of long, satin opera gloves that I’ve cherished for over 20 years.

And even though my collection has expanded and expanded to now include vintage gloves of different colours, lengths and materials be it silk, suede, cotton or lace. I don’t think, that my thirst for shopping gloves will ever be fully satisfied! And why should it?

Gloves For All Seasons

If I was a woman, I would be dressed in the same thing for a month and just change my hat and gloves. Maybe my shoes too; yes, I see what you mean but, really, it’s jewels that change an outfit.

Manolo Blahnik

Wearing gloves doesn’t have to be just about protection from the weather and I’ve always fancied the idea of wearing gloves (particularly vintage ones) for all occasions and all year round, just like the exquisitely dressed ladies of the 19th century who had clever ulterior motive going on behind the wearing of heir gloves.

Rita Hayworth in “Gilda”

Rita Hayworth

In the 1800s gloves played a very significant role in affairs of the heart, as because of the strict rules of conduct, it was difficult for a lady to communicate her desires.

Propriety was the byword and a young lady’s reputation could have been easily ruined, so to avoid any unpleasant situations many books were published explaining the meaning of specific signals to help a lady show her true feelings and not to be caught by doing so. After all, she would be using a secret code (not so secret to those who have read the books) without having to be in direct contact with the suitor.

The Not-So-Secret Glove Language

  1. Dropping one of the gloves meant- yes.
  2. Dropping both gloves – I love you.
  3. Using gloves as a fan – Introduce me to your company.
  4. Turning them inside out – I hate you.
  5. Folding a glove – get rid of your company.
  6. Tossing gloves to the side – I am engaged. 
  7. Pressing the end of the tip of the glove to lips – do you love me?
  8. Holding them hanging loose in my right hand – I’m satisfied. 
  9. Tapping the chin with gloves meant – I love another.

DISCLOSURE: As of October 2021, I’m part of an affiliate program, and I get a small commission for purchases made through the Shop My Style links in this post. That’s how I keep my website alive, for which I’m very grateful to you. All opinions expressed here are mine! 

How to wear 1950s clothing in Autumn
Glove etiquette.



And while we’re still in the 1800s, here’s a rough guide to get you through formal glove etiquette

  1. Gloves were always put on at home and never in public.
  2. They were to be removed during supper or playing cards. Discretion was required and gloves had to be removed under the table and placed on the lap, which was covered by a serviette.
  3. They were also removed during the application or touch-up of make-up.
  4. But gloves were never to be removed when shaking hands on the street.

And her old Uncle William used to say a lady is known by her shoes and her gloves.

― Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway

Glove Etiquette in the 20th Century

Modern living doesn’t make eight-button, twelve-button rules-common sense and Fashion acknoledge this. Longer than short will take you through most formal ocassions. But when to take gloves off may pose a few problems. When you go to a cocktail party, even if your satin or velvt gloves are an inegral part of your costume, don’t touch the hors d’oeuvre tray until you have removed your gloves.

Claire McCardell, ‘What Shall I Wear’, 1956
Can I eat with gloves on?

No. Remove your gloves discreetly once you are seated at the table. Fold them and keep them on your lap.

Is it acceptable to drink with gloves on?

You can drink with your gloves on, especially if you are wearing opera gloves.

Do I remove gloves to shake someone’s hand?

Leave your evening gloves on when shaking hands.

Can I wear jewellery on top of my gloves?

To quote Claire McCardell, ‘Never wear jewelry outside of gloves.’ I, however, find it acceptable, although unnecessary to wear a bracelet over evening gloves.

Don’t be Afraid of Gloves in Different Colour

1940s and 1950s gloves
Just an example of how I style colourful 1940s and 1950s gloves.

Vintage gloves are not the only type I obsessively buy, I have a fast-growing collection of modern leather gloves in many colours, lengths and patterns. In the past, I wouldn’t even consider any other colour than black but I’ve converted after trying a pair in the perfect shade of red and then the perfect shade of blue, yellow, you see where I’m going with this.

I will not rest until I have a pair of leather gloves in the perfect shade of every colour known to a woman. I present to you all my on-growing collection of one of the most important fashion accessories of all time! 

Joan Crawford inspired outfit

The new to me 1940s Koret of California skirt suit paired with contemporary red leather gloves.

How to Wash Vintage Gloves

I found an ad for Ivory Snow Soap from 1934 with instructions on how to wash gloves. I always spot clean vintage leather gloves and would NEVER risk submerging them in water.

I use Eucalan which doesn’t require rinse or saddle soap for spot cleaning.

You should be VERY cautious when cleaning vintage leather.

A friend of mine, one of the biggest vintage Haute Couture collectors in Europe, sent a pair of 1950s Dior leather gloves to the dry cleaner and… There was not much left of them

Do it at your own risk!

how to wash vintage gloves
  1. Use Ivory Snow and just barely lukewarm water. Hot water is fatal to gloves. Ivory Snow melts instantly in water that is safely cool
  2. Wash gloves INSIDE and well as OUTSIDE. A soft nail brush helps to get finger-ends clean.
  3. Rinse thoroughly inside and out in barely LUKEWARM water. No flat particles in Ivory Snow to cling flat to the leather and make rinsing difficult-no soap spots!
  4. DON’T SQUEEZE or wring gloves. Lay them flat between folds of Turkish towel and pat loose water out
  5. DON’T hang wash-leather gloves to dry on a hot radiator or over heat of any kind.
  6. Soften by working onto your hands just BEFORE they are dry.

Are you as fond of gloves as I am?

What do you think?

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  • Dave
    November 22, 2023

    I think it’s great I love when women wear leather gloves, especially long leather gloves. I was wonder what you thought of men wearing leather gloves and long leather gloves. I have relatively small hands an d womens gloves fit ne better, usually a size 8.5 or xlarge. They have more styles and colors, shape the hand better and the leather tends to be softer and better quality. I especially like oprea length leather gloves to the elbow, have most of the arm encased in leather, just fabulous. They just work so well in cold weather, where you don’t need to be concerned about your hands.

    • Dominique de Merteuil
      November 22, 2023

      I can’t think of anything more unappealing than woollen gloves, regardless of the gender of the wearer. However, the smooth and sleek appearance of leather gloves is both attractive and sophisticated. If women’s gloves happen to fit you better, I would definitely recommend considering them as an option.

  • Gata Collins
    November 14, 2019

    Look great! I also wanna own one!

  • Madame Chiffon
    March 3, 2016

    (Insert the sound of enthusiastic clapping from my gloved hands) Spoken like a true Lady of superior style! As a fellow glove aficionada, I enjoyed this article so much, I had to share it.

    • Dominique de Merteuil
      March 3, 2016

      Thank you so much cultofchiffon! It means a lot coming from you! J’adore your vintage shop! Dx