Ladies' evening gloves are long gloves worn by adult women as formal wear, usually to a formal outfit such as an evening gown or wedding dress. The longer the glove, the higher the formality. Among them, the longest evening gloves are called "opera gloves". In this instance the term "Opera" probably has more to do with the length than occasion, as is also seen in "Opera Length Gloves" and "Opera Length Pearls". Opera gloves are not necessarily meant to be worn in opera or theatre only, as many may think. Term "opera gloves" rather describes the certain length of the glove and usually that type of gloves is considered evening or going out style. So, length which comes up to mid upper arm or any length that is above the elbow - is called opera gloves. Opera or a full-length gloves goes over the elbow, usually reaching all the way to the biceps but sometimes it can be even full length of the arm, all the way up to the shoulder.
The first people to wear gloves in medieval Europe were members of royalty and dignitaries in the Roman Catholic Church, the dominant church in Europe. For church dignitaries, or notable figures, gloves were a symbol of purity. Many Western ceremonial dresses are derived from Christian ritual costumes, especially in the Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination where rituals are strictly disciplined, and it was required to reduce skin exposure. Modesty has long been a virtue for women, according to Christianity. In response to this trend, in Western cultures and Anglo-Saxons cultural spheres, short-sleeved or sleeveless dresses such as night dress code are to be worn with long gloves up to the elbow even at official events and upper class social circles. Long gloves allowed women to hide the skin on their arms if they had a no sleeve on their top which enabled them to cover up and maintain their modesty. Therefore, it has a strong meaning as a formal dress in a sacred and strict place, and it is said to be a sophisticated dress of a neat and clean lady.
Ladies' gloves for formal and semi-formal wear come in three lengths for women: wrist, elbow, and opera (over the elbow, usually reaching to the biceps but sometimes to the full length of the arm) length. The most noble opera length gloves are custom made of white kidskin. Many other types of leather, most usually soft varieties of cowhide, are used in making opera length gloves; patent leather and suede are especially popular as alternatives to kidskin, and are often more affordable than kidskin. Satin and stretch satin materials are extremely popular, and there are mass-produced varieties as well. More unusual glove materials include leathers made from salmon, python, and stingray.
Emblematic of wealth and status, gloves have been tied to royalty since the age of Tutankhamun (circa 1300s B.C.). By the 14th century, the general public would have adopted the gloves as a means of protection in battle and against the elements, to stay warm as temperatures dropped. Eventually the glove evolved into a symbol of modesty and respect. As sleeves shortened, gloves grew longer in order to perpetuate an upstanding lady’s gentility. While the etymology of the term opera glove is ambiguous, gloves of above-the-elbow length have been worn since at least the late 18th century, and gloves reaching to or just below the elbow have been worn by women in Western countries since the 17th century; in an extant engraving of England's Queen Mary dating from the 1690s she is shown wearing elbow-length gloves. Gloves were a must have for any proper lady of the Georgian era, no outfit was considered complete without them, and an ungloved hand might even be considered scandalous. Day wear gloves were shorter color varied greatly, while evening wear gloves went as far up as just past the elbow with the most popular color being white. Over-the-elbow gloves became widely popular during the Regency/Napoleonic period (circa 1800–1825), and after that fashionable off and on throughout the Victorian era. In the Victorian fashion, wearing gloves in public was seen as being as mandatory as wearing shoes, and different gloves were available for casual and formal settings. The rules of etiquette that governed Victorian life stated that women should always wear gloves at church or to the theatre. The standard glove during the Victorian era was the “kid” glove, with “kid” being the type of leather used. Says the 1860’s Lady’s Book of Etiquette:
"Never go out without gloves; put them on before you leave the house. You should no more be seen puling on your gloves in the street than tying the strings of your bonnet. Your gloves should always be of kid: silk or cotton gloves are very vulgar." "With regard to dress itself, the first things a lady ought to think about are her gloves and shoes; for spoiled or ripped gloves, or shabby boots, will destroy the effect of the most elegant gown ever worn…The gloves should in a degree match, or at least harmonize, with the dress; and if a young lady’s allowance does not permit her to have a large stock of different colours, she will do her well to select those soft neutral tints which will suit any dress: the delicate greys, and fawn or dove-colours for summer; the soft brown or invisible green for winter wear." (Lady’s Book of Etiquette, 1860)
Gloves weren’t just an accessory for men and women; they were essential articles of clothing. Ladies never left their homes during the day without their gloves. The wearing of gloves was strongly encouraged not only outdoors, but indoors as well. They wore them constantly while in public and didn’t remove them until they returned to the privacy of their own homes. Even while drinking tea or eating a meal, ladies kept their gloves on; they simply unfastened some buttons at their wrists in order to slip the fingers of their gloves off. Gloves were also essential for evening and at the end of the nineteenth century, white kids were absolutely required for evening occasions for both men and women.  From “Martine's Hand-book of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness.” 1866:
“Gloves should be worn by ladies in church, and in places of public amusement. Do not take them off to shake hands. Great care should be taken that they are well made and fit neatly.”
In the last two decades of the 19th century and the years of the 20th century prior to the start of World War I, during that period, they were standard for both daytime and evening wear; even some swimming costumes were accessorized with opera gloves. Etiquette considered gloves to be mandatory accessories for both men and women of the upper classes, so it was uncommon to see a well-dressed woman at a public occasion who was not wearing gloves of some sort. From Agnes H. Morton's “Etiquette.” 1919:
Under A Few Points on Dress “Where dancing is expected to take place, no one should go without new kid gloves; nothing is so revolting as to see one person in an assembly ungloved, especially where the heat of the room, and the exercise together, are sure to make the hands redder than usual. Always wear your gloves in church or in a theater.”
Color of gloves were usually matched with hats, handbags and footwear, but white was a safe default option. On leaving the house, a lady slipped on her gloves as routinely as her outdoor shoes. According to several fashion historians, over-the-elbow gloves were re-popularized during the late 19th century by actresses Sarah Bernhardt in France (to disguise what she considered her overly thin arms) and Lillian Russell in the United States. Prior to the 20th century, gloves could symbolize a woman's class or, in the case of gloves, hide her class status. A wealthy white woman's hands were pale, smooth, thin, and graceful. A working woman or homemaker's hands were thick, rough, scarred, and tan. When she wore gloves, she could hide her class status, dressing well to elevate herself into a better life. Clean gloves were also the hallmark of a lady and white or cream were the most favoured gloves. As fashions began to blend the upper and lower classes together, it was in the details of the glove design, material, and fit that hinted at a woman's status. The opera glove has enjoyed varying popularity in the decades since World War I, being most prevalent as a fashion accessory in the 1940s through the early 1960s, but continues to this day to be popular with women who want to add a particularly elegant touch to their formal attire. They have enjoyed minor revivals in fashion design on several occasions, being popular in haute couture collections in the late 2000s. Opera gloves continue to be popular accessories for bridal, prom, cotillion, debutante, and quinceañera gowns and at very formal ballroom dances.
They are sometimes worn by entertainers such as can-can dancers and burlesque performers in particular during the performance of a Gown-and-glove striptease. In popular culture, probably the best-known images incorporating opera gloves are those of Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946) Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Cinderella from Disney's 1950 film Cinderella, and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
In Japan, some ladies wear long gloves all day in summer, to protect the ideal irojiro (色白), or fair skin, which represents beauty, grace, and high social status (as well as purity and divinity in local religions), and avoid any form of tanning.
The best-known type of opera glove, the mousquetaire, is given this name due to the wrist-level opening (most commonly three inches long) which is closed by three (usually) buttons or snap closures, most frequently made of pearl or some lookalike material. The mousquetaire is originally derived from the gauntlets worn by French musketeers of the 16th and 17th centuries, although, tongue-in-cheek, according to Ambrose Bierce in The Devil's Dictionary, 1911:
Mousquetaire, n. A long glove covering a part of the arm. Worn in New Jersey. But "mousquetaire" is a mighty poor way to spell muskeeter.
Mousquetaire gloves have buttons at the wrist so the wearer could open the buttons and slip her hand out without taking the whole glove off. The finger section would be folded in and kept away tidily. This is how ladies wore gloves while dining. After the meal they would put their hands back into the gloves, usually for the rest of the evening. During the 19th century, especially from the mid-Victorian era onwards, gloves were tailored so as to fit very tightly onto the hands and arms—so tightly, in fact, that it was often necessary to use aids such as talcum powder and buttonhooks to put on one's gloves; therefore, it was considered somewhat uncouth to put on or remove one's gloves completely in public and women would make sure to don their gloves in the privacy of their homes before going out to some event (another reason for the popularity of the mousquetaire opening). The mousquetaire opening/fastening for women's long gloves seems to have become most popular during the Victorian era; during the Napoleonic/Regency period, women's long gloves were often tailored to fit loosely on the wearer's arm, and were often worn gathered below the elbow or held up on the biceps with a garter-like strap. (In the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice, Rosamund Pike and several other actresses wear opera-length gloves with drawstring ties at the top of the glove, but this might not be an accurate representation of the style of long gloves in the Regency era; fashion plates from the period do not appear to show gloves with drawstring-type ties, but do often show women wearing gloves held up by garterlike straps or ribbons.)
In the period of the 1930s through early 1960s, the evening glove was adapted for wear with certain high end lounging and sleeping outfits, or peignoir sets. Such gloves were typically made out of the same lightweight sheer nylon, rayon, or silk as of the lingerie set in a matching or complementary color and always of above elbow length. These gloves were introduced to bring the fashion for covered hands into the bedroom, protect skin during sleep and leisure time, and provide modesty for women during times of travel, visitation, or shared accommodation. While never widespread, these sleeping gloves were a desired component of the most expensive bedroom ensembles. Given the prevalence of gloves in mid-20th century women's fashion, a woman who added sleeping gloves to her wardrobe would have been gloved virtually at all times.
Bridal gloves came to be in our history when they represented a sign of status and power. Out of respect, they were worn at all traditional and religious ceremonies, particularly by royalty and dignitaries. In the early 21st century, about 75% of wedding dresses on the market are sleeveless and strapless. Many Western ceremonial dresses are derived from Christian ritual costumes. Modesty has long been a virtue for women, according to Christianity. So it was required to reduce skin exposure. In response to this trend, sleeveless or strapless dresses often wear long gloves. Long gloves allowed women to hide the skin on their arms if they had a no sleeve on their top which enabled them to cover up and maintain their modesty. Western culture has long followed the tradition of wearing white on one’s wedding day. Tradition has it that the glove is in fact the same color as the dress: if the dress is white, the glove is also white. In the 1871 issue of Godey's Lady's Book, it is stated:”As a rule, gloves should always be a shade lighter than the dress with which they are worn— never darker. Dark gloves with light dresses are most offensive to the eye.” The traditional bridal glove is white and the length is 25.6" (65cm.). Unless it is an informal summer wedding, long gloves are a signature accessory for brides.
The debutante costume (both then and now) is a white formal gown worn with long white gloves. With its long skirt, a debutante’s dress could easily be mistaken for a wedding gown.  White opera gloves are still mandatory for female debutantes at the Vienna Opera Ball. Over the centuries, styles and fashion have changed. But, the one constant which ties the early debutante in England to the modern-day American debutante, is the wearing of above-the-elbow white kidskin debutante gloves. The Debutante Glove has been recognized for over a century as one of the foremost symbols of upper-class femininity. A debutante without gloves is not a debutante at all. Once restricted to young women from wealthy families on the social register, the traditional long, white formal dress and opera-length kid gloves of the debutante are more and more frequently also worn by daughters of the middle class. For today's formal debutante balls, the appropriate attire for a debutante is a white gown with a full skirt. The dress must be pure white and no other color should be used. Off-white or cream colors are not acceptable. Similarly, the gloves must be white in color.
The length of ladies' evening gloves are referred to in terms of "buttons", whether they in fact have buttons or not. The word is derived from French, and the exact measure is actually a bit longer than one inch. Wrist length gloves are usually eight-button, those at the elbow are 16, mid-biceps are 22 and full shoulder length are 30. Opera gloves are between 16 and 22 inches long, though some gloves can be as long as 29 or 30 inches. To fit oneself for gloves, measure all around the hand at the widest part of the palm where the knuckles are, but excluding the thumb. The measurement in inches is the glove size, but if one's arms are large, it may be practical to go up a size. Generally, an evening glove is considered to be a true "opera-length" glove if it reaches to mid-biceps or higher on the wearer's arm, notwithstanding its actual length in inches or buttons; therefore, a petite woman might find a glove with a measurement of 16 or 17 inches adequate for the purpose, while a tall woman might need a glove longer than 22 inches. The "elbow-length or longer" part is the key; gloves which cover a substantial portion of the forearm, up to just below the elbow, can legitimately be called "long gloves" or "evening gloves", but never "Opera Gloves".
Here is what you need to know when wearing this gloves for any occasion.
- Traditionally, opera gloves should not be put on in public, but should be donned in the privacy of one's home before going out.
- Do not appear in public without your gloves with you.
- Do not make a habit of carrying your gloves ~ they should be considered an integral part of your costume. Gloves should be worn rather than carried.
- Gloves should be kept on when shaking hands, dancing, or presenting your hand to be kissed, but not when dining.
- The basic rule for the length of all gloves is as follows: The shorter the sleeve, the longer the glove. Opera gloves are, therefore, properly worn with sleeveless or short-sleeved cocktails dresses or strapless, sleeveless, or short-sleeved evening gowns.
- The longer the glove, the higher the formality. Formal events require gloves that are at least past elbow length.
- Do not wear short gloves to a white tie affair. Always wear white gloves above the elbow at White Tie events. They cannot be removed until the moment you find yourself at the table. After finishing the meal, put them on again.
- White is the most traditional color for opera gloves and is suitable for almost any occasion where opera gloves are worn. Black opera gloves should not be worn with white or light-colored gowns, only with dark-colored clothing. Colored gloves, least popular, should be worn to match the dress’ color. Contrasting colors should be avoided.
- You can wear bracelets over gloves but not rings.
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