The Etiquette of Opera Gloves

The following is a series of brief notes on etiquette. These have been gathered from my own research and observations, but are subject to change; I welcome corrections and additions.

Traditionally, opera gloves should not be put on in public, but should be donned in the privacy of one's home before going out.

Your gloves should be kept on when shaking hands (e.g., 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 (see below).

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 (unless, of course, you are attempting to seduce the viewer!)

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 bracelets.

The basic rule as to length of gloves may be defined as follows: the shorter the sleeve, the longer the glove. Opera gloves are, therefore, properly worn with sleeveless or short-sleeved dresses or strapless, sleeveless (with straps) or short-sleeved evening gowns.

Six-button (14" or thereabouts) gloves, also known as three-quarter length or coat-length gloves, may properly be worn with just about any length of sleeve. With longer sleeves, the armpieces are generally tucked under the sleeves.

Gauntlet-type gloves (gloves with flared armpieces) are also appropriate for wear with most sleeve lengths. The armpieces of gauntlets are customarily worn over the sleeve of your blouse or coat. Traditionally, you should use a cigarette holder when smoking while wearing gloves, especially long gloves.

White and its various shades, including ivory, beige and taupe, are the traditional colors for opera gloves and are appropriate for virtually any occasion on which opera gloves are worn.

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.

The following material on long-glove etiquette was contributed by Madame Pamela of Maitresse:

"When putting on Her gloves, the Lady should work in the hand from the wrist, then gradually smooth the glove up the arm, rather than pulling from the top. Gloves are worn during the cocktail hour, at least the right glove removed entirely while dining, then worn again for the remainder of the evening (or night!) A Lady does not remove Her glove when shaking hands nor when presenting Her hand to be kissed. It is now very permissible to wear rings and/or a bracelet over one's glove."

"I sometimes smoke on social occasions, but use a cigarette holder to isolate the cigarette from My gloved fingers. Finally, the mousquetaire glove looks much nicer worn buttoned, and I enjoy assigning this difficult, but always pleasurable, task to My escort."

In the Victorian era, it was not exactly proper, as you might imagine, for a lady just to walk up to a gentleman and tell him that she'd like to get to know him better! "Flirtation codes" were developed using a wide variety of objects. The "fan code" is the best-known, but gloves were also used as flirtation signals. Here are some of the better-known glove signals:

Twirling one's gloves around her fingers - We are being watched

Holding the tips of the gloves downward - I wish to be acquainted

Gently smoothing the gloves - I wish I were with you; I would like to talk with you

Holding one's gloves loosely in her right hand - Be contented

Holding one's gloves loosely in her left hand - I am satisfied

Striking one's gloves over her hands - I am displeased

Tossing one's gloves up gently - I am engaged

Tapping one's chin with her gloves - I love another

Dropping one of her gloves - Yes

Dropping both gloves - I love you

Turning the wrong side of one's gloves outward - I hate you

Of course, many of the above signals involved having to remove at least one glove, which was not considered proper (except at dinnertime, and even then the mousquetaire opening was commonly used to bare the hand and so remove the necessity of having to take it all off, so to speak) for opera-length gloves! (The above information was drawn from Languages of Love - Museumposten and Victorian Gloves and Glove Flirtation.)

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