Ages before a girl could send love notes to a boy via text message, a young woman had a more discreet conduit for communication—her gloves. Depending upon how she toyed with them, she could make her intentions known. Dropping a pair, for instance, meant “I love you.”
While gloves no longer convey romantic innuendo, designers are nevertheless utterly in love with them this fall. They are reworking the classic item with zeal, offering a breadth of styles, colors and embellishments. For every mood and personality, there’s a different kind of glove: shorty, gauntlet, mousquetaire, opera, feathered, embroidered, ruffled or studded.
“Gloves are a bit old-school glam, but for fall they have a more contemporary edge when you play around with materials,” says Donatella Versace, who crafted over-the-elbow versions to complement her newly modest (yet still sexy) clothes. “They add a special chicness that never seems too overpowering and obvious.”
At Gucci, Frida Giannini accented her Forties-fueled ode to Lee Miller with sleek elbow-length numbers. “They were the perfect accessory for the look, one for a strong, passionate and adventuresome woman,” she says.
There were other, equally appealing variations on the runways, like the leather and knit mitaines Karl Lagerfeld worked into Chanel’s colorful cold-weather sportif mood. Other examples included the bright two-toned looks at Marc Jacobs and Prada, Marni’s extralong knitted mittens, Yves Saint Laurent’s dramatic opera pair and the beaded stunners at Christian Lacroix.
Meanwhile, Christopher Bailey let things get positively medieval at Burberry Prorsum—purposely, of course, in homage to the house’s iconic knight-on-a-charger logo. “Gloves represent protection and can be worn as a fashion accessory or in a more utilitarian and practical way,”says Bailey. “We showed almost all the looks with gloves.” And how: There were tons of quilted patent-leather gauntlets and long, extended styles that hammered home his tough-edged chivalry-chic idea.
Indeed, gloves have been a significant accessory since long before medieval times. Prehistoric cavemen, in fact, wore crude versions of mittens, and a delicate linen pair was found in King Tut’s tomb. By the 12th century, gloves reflected the cultural and financial status of the wearer. Centuries later, a lady would never attend the opera sans mousquetaires, a tradition that lasted for centuries and is still upheld by a few.
Fashionwise, gloves have long offered polished punctuation to a look. With the advent of Dior’s New Look, women dressed to the hilt with matching everything, including the proper accoutrements for their hands. And big-screen movie stars—think Rita Hayworth in Gilda and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s—owe a part of their iconic style cachet to covered-up hands. Today edgy Hollywood girls favor tougher motocross and fingerless mitts.
Of course, fashion can always be viewed through a larger cultural prism, and some fashion historians equate this recent comeback with a slight but noticeable social shift. “In recent years, women have become much trashier than men, as if walking around half naked is an extra asset,” says Jacqueline Ceresoli, a professor of fashion history at the Istituto Europeo di Design and Politecnico de Milano. “It’s no wonder men are intimidated and even embarrassed at times. This renewed desire for gloves shows that a certain type of woman is ready to be more feminine and sensual.”
“Gloves could be an unconscious way to describe the alarming problems of our society,” says Sara Piccolo Paci, a fashion historian at Florence’s Polimoda. “In the 16th century, for example, nobles used gloves to avoid touching the impurities in the world.”
Though it’s unlikely that designers are playing to the germophobe set, there’s no question that gloves are definitely having a moment. “Women are always looking for a new accessory, and this coming season really puts gloves in the spotlight,” says Versace.
So much so that some consider them a necessity. As Karl Lagerfeld muses, “When someone asks me, ‘Why do you wear gloves?’ I ask, ‘Why do you wear shoes?’”
Clockwise from top left: Burberry Prorsum’s patent-leather glove, $755, at select Burberry stores, burberry.com; Marc Jacobs’s leather glove, price available upon request, at Marc Jacobs, New York; Roger Vivier’s crocodile and fox fur glove, $3,300, at Roger Vivier, New York, 212.861.5371; Mulberry’s leather glove, $250, at select Mulberry stores, 888.685.6856; Alberta Ferretti’s leather and metal glove, $450, at Bergdorf Goodman, New York, 888.774.2424.