Friday, February 1, 2008

The Allure of the Hand

As you look over the fashion prints Marissa and I have posted the last couple of weeks, one of the (few) things you’ll see in common is that most of our lovely ladies are wearing gloves. That’s because it was considered rather immodest to bare the skin of your hand. You could plunge your neckline so that it skimmed your breasts, squeeze your sleeves until they were nothing but a wisp of gaze across your shoulders, and wear few or damp petticoats to allow glimpses of your legs. But your hands, well, you only showed them to family and intimates.

When going out during the day, a lady wore kid-skin or cotton short gloves, died to match or contrast with her outfit of course. She might wear thicker gloves when riding or driving. She might also hide her gloved hands inside a muff, a huge pelt of fur or feathers.

In the evening, the young lady wore long opera gloves, sometimes coming up well above the elbow. Sometimes they were silk, but other times they were kid. White was most popular, but again the gloves could be died to match her outfit. Gloves were also embroidered, beaded, or overlain with lace.

I posted earlier about how difficult it was to eat in these. I imagine keeping them clean was another problem. A lady no doubt needed a number of the things so that some could be worn while others were soaking to remove stains.

Obviously when weather is cold or damp, gloves are quite useful. But why all the fuss to wear them at other times? My theory is that we use hands to touch, to caress, to feel. Doing that with anyone but your family and friends is a little risky, a little daring if you will. You’ll see in books where the hero tucks her hand in his arm, squeezes her hand, or, shockingly, rolls back the glove to kiss her wrist. Can you imagine the sensations when you weren’t used to having someone touch you there?

Where’s that fan when you need one?


Cara King said...

Nice post, Regina! Having just danced at a "Jane Austen Ball," I felt the lack of proper gloves! I do need to buy a nice long pair before the next time I wear my Regency gown... :-)

I suspect out of doors, they also kept one's hands from becoming tanned, chapped, or roughened...which we all know would be *so* unladylike! :-)


Regina Scott said...

Good point, Cara! The first time I attended the annual Beau Monde Soiree in costume, I didn't have gloves, and I felt like I had to keep apologizing for my cold hands!

Oh, but I am jealous that you got to dance at a Jane Austen ball!

Marissa Doyle said...

Regina, did you want that fan to cool yourself down, or whack someone with? :)

And re the "why wear gloves" question...lack of central heating! Even lace mitts worn whilst penning missives to dear cousin Euphemia in the country will help retain some heat in the hands.

Barrie said...

How interesting. I'm really enjoying your blog. I don't read a lot of historicals. It's amazing how much there is to learn!

Melissa Walker said...

I am coveting some of these styles; if only I had a ball to go to!