The Etiquette of Opera Gloves
Should I consider Opera Gloves with my Wedding Gown?
Opera Gloves are a beautiful tradition and there is no reason why you should not consider them in this day and age.
Unfortunately, classic opera gloves have nearly disappeared from the modern retailers inventory, making only a scarce appearance during high school proms in shiny stretch lycra.
Without the button opening on the inside wrist known as the mousquetaire, these gloves are ungraceful to remove during a wedding ceremony, as the lack of wrist opening necessitates taking them off at the altar to accept your wedding ring.
Don’t make your guests suffer as you do a mock strip tease in front of the pastor. Wear the real thing… kid leather or vintage knit.
Your best bet is to scout the vintage clothing stores for the true opera glove with mousquetaire that can allow your hand to come out through the wrist opening, while still wearing the long glove over your forearm. Easily unbuttoned at the altar, the mousquetaire allows you to remove your hand and then roll the glove up neatly and tuck it under the wrist.
Fingerless gloves, also called “sleeves or gauntlets” are a 1950’s style that still looks great when done in the same fabric as the gown. Usually elbow length, with a vee point over the hand, the gauntlet may be secured with an elastic loop that fits around the middle finger or extends around the thumb. This style easily accommodates a wedding ceremony without removing your accessories.
The length of a glove is traditionally expressed in “buttons”, an antique French unit of measure which is slightly longer than one inch.
Button measures are customarily taken from the bottom of the thumb seam to the top of the glove, and the actual length of the glove in inches is 6 to 7 inches longer than the length in buttons.
The various traditional lengths are:
Also known as “shorties”, these are wrist-length gloves, generally 8 to 9 inches long and were socially required day wear for women until the mid-sixties. These gloves are easily removed during your ceremony and held by your bridesmaid. Emily Post would be proud of your ladylike femininity.
These gloves are 10 to 11 inches long and cover the wrist, reaching a couple of inches up onto the forearm.
12 to 13 inches long, these gloves reach well up onto the forearm. Many “gauntlet” type gloves (i.e., these gloves with flared arm pieces in the style of equestrian gauntlets) are this length. A favorite length for daytime wear.
14 to 15 inches long, this type of glove reaches to the upper forearm. This is also known as the “three-quarter” length glove, and is the style worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Approximately 18 to 19 inches long, this type of glove reaches up to and just over the wearer’s elbow. Known as “elbow-length” in common parlance, and many have mousquetaire wrist openings, but not to be confused with:
22 to 23 inches long – this is the classic OPERA length, and as a general rule comes with the mousquetaire wrist opening. The very longest length of glove is…
27 to 29 inches long, this glove generally reaches all the way to the wearer’s armpits. This is possibly the most dramatic length of glove, and is generally worn only with strapless or sleeveless evening outfits.
Natalie Wood wore an example of early 20th century costume design as her character Maggie DuBois in Blake Edward’s 1965 comedy, “The Great Race.”
In this studio candid under the Eiffel Tower, Natalie carried her sweep train by the wrist by unbuttoning her classic opera length glove and pulling her hand out through the mousquetaire opening. Her empty glove was then rolled up neatly to the wrist.
Her gloves are 16-button measurement, 22 to 23 inches long – this is the classic opera glove, and as a general rule comes with the mousquetaire wrist opening.
Oh, the tiniest hand in the land have I
Traditionally, opera gloves should not be put on in public, but should be donned in the privacy of one’s home before going out.
This tradition arose from necessity as the 19th century glove was always one size too small for the wearer and the trying task of getting a large hand into a small glove took skill.
Fashionably attired women often took hours to work their hand into a glove, aided by the use of powdered alum and a buttonhook. It was desirable for a lady’s hand to appear half cupped, so that when she presented it to a gentleman there was a half moon shaped pink mound of flesh in the center of her palm. This debilitated ladies from shaking hands, or gasp! presenting a fist to be kissed. The immobilized hand outstretched like a wing was far more graceful.
Blame the fashion on Lord Byron, whose love of the fragility of a woman’s gloved hand meant ladies went to extreme lengths, or rather small sizes to make their gloved hands appear small.
According to Madame de la Maitresse:
“When putting on her gloves, a lady always works in the hand from the wrist, then gradually smoothes the glove up her arm, rather than pulling from the top.
Gloves are worn during the cocktail hour, and at least the right glove is removed entirely while dining, then worn again for the remainder of the evening.
A lady does not remove her glove when shaking hands or when presenting her hand to be kissed.
It is also now very permissible to wear rings and/or a bracelet over one’s glove.” Traditionally, you should use a cigarette holder when smoking while wearing gloves, especially if they are opera length.
Finally, the mousquetaire glove looks much nicer worn buttoned, and I enjoy assigning this difficult, but always pleasurable task to my escort.”
The etiquette of gloves
Your gloves should be kept on when shaking hands in a reception line or when dancing.
Gloves may also be worn while drinking, though care must be exercised not to spill liquids on them, especially when the gloves are made of kidskin or some other delicate leather. It is better to remove, or partially remove them when practicable.
When you sit down to dinner, you should take off your gloves, and put them back on when dinner is over.
If you remove your opera gloves, you should not take them off in a way that calls undue or seductive attention to the process.
You can partially remove your opera gloves in this fashion: unbutton the mousquetaire wrist opening and pull your hand out through the opening. The empty glove hand can then be rolled up neatly to wrist level, either tucked under the wrist or under your bracelet, if you are wearing one.
The basic rule as to length of gloves may be defined as follows:
The shorter the sleeve, the longer the glove. Opera length gloves are therefore, properly worn with strapless, sleeveless, sleeveless with spaghetti straps or short-sleeved gowns.
Six-button (approximately 14″) gloves, also known as three-quarter length or coat-length gloves, may be worn with just about any length of sleeve.
With longer sleeves, such as the three-quarter sleeves made popular in the 1960’s by fashion designer Oleg Cassini (an example of the style is shown above,) gloves are correctly worn when the arm piece of the glove is tucked in under the sleeves.
Gauntlet-type gloves (gloves with flared arm pieces) are also appropriate for wear with most sleeve lengths. The arm pieces of gauntlets are customarily worn over the sleeve of your blouse or coat.
White and its various shades, including ivory, beige and taupe, are the traditional colors for opera gloves and are appropriate for any occasion on which opera gloves are worn.
Formally, black opera gloves should not be worn with white or light-colored dresses or gowns, but can be worn with black, dark-colored or bright-colored clothing.
Opera gloves of other colors generally should be worn only in coordination with the color scheme of the dress or gown you are wearing.
Remember, nothing is sexier than a woman in opera gloves and a fitted gown. Remain Composed!