One of the great pleasures of the autumnal wardrobe flip is not only rediscovering heavier clothes, but the sundry seasonal accessories that accompany them. My personal favorites are found in the glove bin. Too often regarded as objects of mundane necessity, well-made gloves can be, like hats, essential sartorial punctuation -- final flourishes that can really take one’s presentation from the elegant to the extraordinary. Aside from shoes, belts, and watchbands, gloves are the only occasion for leather in a classic wardrobe, and certainly the most sensuous. The elemental simplicity of the finest unlined gloves -- just skin and thread, maybe a pearl button -- make it easy to admire the craftsmanship of hand-cutting and stitching,* particularly since they’re bound to spend so much time on your hands or in them, readily available on endless occasions to be elegantly held, fiddled with, put back on, and taken off again.
Speaking of donning and doffing, it’s been my observation that gloves today are generally sized (and worn) too large. While clothing that “fits like a glove” is almost invariably too tight, fine dress gloves should in fact feel slightly constricting -- not uncomfortably so, but rather like support garments for the hand. A fundamental virtue of the more exotic glove leathers is their ability to stretch over the knuckles and palm like the supple second skins they are without losing their shape, and a fundamental skill of a glovemaker is cutting the pattern to accommodate this. If you’re wondering why your expensive dress gloves don’t have the precise and sinuous articulation you see in old movies and photographs, you might be wearing a size too large. A precise glove fit not only looks more elegant -- it also provides the happy necessity of removing your gloves as the good lord intended: one seductive finger at a time. This is even more fun than it looks, and will only be creepy if your gloves are black.
The first step in integrating gloves into a wardrobe is appreciating that, as with everything else already in there, there’s a range of styles to suit every occasion. While hard distinctions between gloves suitable for town or country are anachronistic, it’s still advisable to maintain consistency with the rest of any given ensemble: casual rustic looks are best accompanied by more textured leathers (e.g. peccary and pigskin), while more sober business attire is complemented by smoother skins (e.g. cape and mocha**). Like suede shoes, suede gloves can go either way. Formal eveningwear mandates white gloves (unless you just can’t bear the thought, in which case funereal black won’t get you barred at the gate). In general, always try to distinguish your sleeve from your glove with a color contrast; coordinated socks may serve to extend the line of a leg, but who wants long arms?
In most cases, unlined gloves are preferable. These icons of elegance have virtually disappeared on the street, but unlike, say, spats, there’s no particularly practical reason for it. Most of the time unlined gloves will afford all the protection your hands need, while giving them much greater dexterity. When the wind really bites, a thin silk or cashmere lining will do the trick without compromising a good glove’s lithe lines. If you regularly engage in snowball fights, shearling gloves might be just the thing, but normal temperature ranges in the lower forty-eight simply don’t call for those ubiquitous black Gor-tex gauntlets; like ski-passes, they should never be seen off the slopes.
Most of the time when a man today is wearing gloves, he’s going to be wearing a coat, but it ain’t necessarily so. Dressers who enjoy wearing heavyweight suits and sportcoats, perhaps over a sweater vest and with a scarf, know that such upholstery can take you far into the winter without need for an overcoat, but you’re going to want gloves. It is, of course, an all-too-classic look. Back in the canonized interbellum era of fine menswear, unlined gloves -- often in brightly contrasting chamois -- were a staple of coatless swells’ shoulder season ensembles in England, Europe, and the eastern establishment of the United States. This dash of old-world dandyism brings us to the crux of both the aesthetic appeal and the popular demise of fine dress gloves: they are inherently, proudly -- perhaps even obnoxiously -- precious. Particularly in the more ostentatious lighter colors coveted by dressers and dandies, they have for centuries been exquisitely prophylactic symbols of upper-crust sequestration from (if not contempt for) the dirty world of the hoi polloi.
Our world, however, is not that of Hugo’s Paris or Dicken’s London or James’ New York. A new Gilded Age may be upon us, but class wars are no longer fought sartorially. Ironically, one’s ability to pull off a pair of buff deerskin gloves without risking utter ass-hattery is predicated precisely on the dearth of elegance dressers are always lamenting. Today, when most people’s daily grind doesn’t involve grasping anything dirtier than a steering wheel or subway pole, wearing creamy yellow gloves doesn’t mark a man as an elitist -- it marks him as a lover of clothes. Possibly a fey dandy, perhaps a foolish fop, but probably not the Master of the Universe hedge funder who just blew up your dad’s pension. Good enough for me.
* Especially pronounced on “outstitched” styles, where the glove is worn as assembled, without being reversed.
** An appropriately delicious but ambiguous term describing a matte, suede-finished leather -- often but not necessarily sheepskin -- in a color ranging from dove grey to an earthy dun.
[Originally published in A Suitable Wardrobe.]