I love vintage gloves myself and am fortunate to have a friend who was a real glove seller in the days gloves were a fashion mainstay. In my quest for gloves I have discussed the fitting and finding of vintage gloves with her and want to share the valuable information she has to offer.
I have recently been trying to buy vintage gloves online. Sizing and condition are always difficult to access without being able to inspect the gloves and try them on in person. Often the online sellers do not know the sizes of the gloves they have up for sale and do not know anything about measuring or fitting gloves. Thus, I have had some successes in buying vintage gloves online and and some failures!
In an attempt to get better at this I have been researching the topic of fitting gloves – both vintage and contemporary. I am talking about finer designer gloves and hand made gloves of all materials.
Fortunately I have an elegant 96 year old friend, Eloise, who worked for I. Magnin and Nordstrom Best for decades. At I. Magnin she sold gloves! Leather, ones, cloth ones – all types and styles from famous designers and glove companies during the heyday of fashion gloves. She began her retail career right out of high school at the age of 17. I decided to ask her to share her knowledge and experience.
Eloise told me that they always advised people to buy gloves the same size as a woman’s shoe size. They often had to help gentlemen (her word!) buy them as gifts. She never had them returned as this worked. They always fit. She remembers that the lady who received the gloves as a gift would often come in wearing them! In those days a good sales lady also kept a record of all her customer’s sizes and often had them conveniently written on a card to give to husbands (or other gentlemen!) Gloves were a very popular luxury gift item. How nice!
I wear a 6.5 to 7 shoe depending on style and maker and sure enough I wear the same in gloves – depending on style and maker. I like to keep my nails longish. She said they advised women to go a size larger for long nails if needed for finger length. Of course, one must keep in mind that the gloves will get bigger all over, not just in the length of the fingers, as you go up in size. I tried this, but my hands are too slim through the palm and I cannot go bigger than a 7. Thus, I have several size 6.5 and several size 7 pairs that fit. These are all European designer gloves, many leather. Eloise – wears the same size and we both tried on a pile of her vintage gloves to test this.Sure enough, she was right!
Christian Dior fits perfectly in size 6.5 and has longer fingers than some of the others. Hermes also fits perfectly in 6.5. These two brands ran a tiny bit larger than some of the others.
I recently bought a new pair of Ralph Lauren leather designer gloves this winter and had to get size Small. They are nowadays labeled S,M, and L – not sold in as refined and exact sizing as they used to be. However, some companies are still making their gloves in classic sizes. It is valuable information to know your correct glove size nowadays when buying new designer gloves as well as vintage gloves. I visited the Neiman Marcus website and expensive leather gloves from Europe are still sold there under the classic sizing methods.
“And men, it is valuable for you to know your woman’s glove size in case you want to get her an always appropriate gift of gloves!” from Eloise. She says that the stores told them to tell the customers that gloves were always an appropriate gift for a woman. They are warm, practical, considerate, elegant and luxurious, and not as personal or expensive as a piece of jewelry! A pair of lovely gloves is an appropriate gift for every lady in your life – your sweetheart or wife, your mother, your aunt, your grandmother, your secretary, your teacher, your daughter or niece. It is great gift for birthdays, Christmas, Valentines day! Could this be why there are still so many vintage gloves available? Were they received as gifts and tucked away for special occasions or seldom worn? Eloise says it was perfectly normal for women to own dozens of pairs. After all, until the late 1960’s, you never went out without wearing a pair! Most modern gloves are just huge on me! Way too wide through the palm. In fact they are so loose they actually fall off easily. Price does not make a difference here! I tried on many pairs of gloves this winter from many pricey companies and high end stores. I searched and searched and the only pair I found that would stay on and I liked were the Ralph Lauren pair I bought.
I am a perfect candidate for vintage gloves because I need the narrow palm width. When I find a pair in good condition that fits I am very happy! The only problem with some vintage leather gloves I have had is that the thread used to sew them has rotted. I slipped my hands into a beautiful pair of elbow length brown suede gloves from the 1950’s and they split. They were not too small. Eloise explained to me that two things happen, the thread rots and the leather also gets old and ready to go. Same as with vintage leather and fur coats.
After Eloise worked at I.Magnin’s she married a furrier. She helped in his business and even learned to make fur coats. She now teaches designing and sewing leather and fur coats at a college in Seattle. Her husband had to close down his furrier business in the 1980’s due to lack of demand. After her first husband, the furrier, died, Eloise began dating his best friend whose wife had also passed away. Two years ago they got married! He was the former head of a department the University of WA. and very well off. He is 2 yrs older than Eloise. She told me to say this! “Tell younger women there are still plenty of nice eligible men out there! ”
They are an adorable couple! They are both very healthy. They attribute this to good living! They travel a lot, but when home go for early morning walks at 6:30 AM in the dead of winter for 6 miles every day! She gets to wear her fur coats to stay warm! (They are not running into any PETA fanatics on their early morning walks!) They invited me to join them! I cannot do it and get to work on time! They are quite amazing. She is peppier and prettier than many 28 year olds!
Eloise wears her gorgeous designer clothes, accumulated throughout her retail career, daily. She is still a vintage size 10 which is really tiny and trim. She is a great seamstress and has a sewing room where she is always working on some cute project. The last time I visited she was making a wide belt out of a vintage real leopard skin. She has quite a few priceless fur pelts left over from the furrier business. She has helped me to identify the types of fur in several of my own vintage fur coats.
Please note, those of you who love animals, Eloise also loves them. She respects the furs she has and takes very good care of them as her way of showing her love. She is not buying new fur pelts.
Eloise is a gold mine of first hand knowledge and experience related to vintage fashion and clothing. She is also a great example of feminine charm!
When she remarried she moved into her new husband’s home and had to downsize a bit. She gave me over 200 vintage sewing patterns – all of which she had made for herself over the years. She likes to design and sew her own clothes and does a fantastic job. Fur coats too! She makes them! Every pattern she gave me was marked with the date she made it and the occasion she made it for. And a sample of the fabric she used was attached to the pattern envelope. It was so interesting! Her entire life was documented in her sewing patterns. I now have this amazing documentation and am keeping it safe! I want to make some of the dresses.
The first pattern in the collection was her graduation dress from high school and the last was a Vogue pattern for a tasteful black and white Oscar de la Renta cocktail dress from the late 1990’s. Her high school graduation dress was more like a ball gown would be today! It was a floor length peach silk satin bias cut evening dress with a smocked bodice, dramatic puffed sleeves and a wide sash tied in a huge bow down the back. The year was 1933! She also saved the dress! And she gave it to me! It is perfectly preserved. I could wear it tonight if I had an occasion to wear it to! With long white gloves, of course!
But back to gloves and glove fitting!
Eloise’s advice on gloves is to start with your shoe size. This is what they did with the gloves that are now vintage gloves when they were initially selling them. She was trained to fit them properly when she began selling gloves at I. Magnin when she was 17! Of course there will be some exceptions of women with different sized feet and hands, but it is a good guideline that is statistically quite reliable. I think this is great information on glove fitting advice. I have just begun to tell people about it, but we need to spread the word.
I want to buy more vintage gloves but it is very hard to buy them when the online sellers cannot identify the size or condition of the gloves (as far as rotten thread and skins!) I have now bought 2 pairs that were too old to wear and split immediately. Obviously this is not because I have huge hands! My glove size is 6.5 or 7 and I wear a size 5 ring and have thin hands!
By the way I have seen gloves listed online in their original plastic bags. Eloise also told me that the gloves came in originally in plastic bags, but this was just intended to keep them clean in shipping and until they were sold. Not for permanent storage because the plastic bags are non archival – which has contributed to the rotting thread problem. People really should have taken them out of those bags and stored them in a drawer. She recommends wrapped in a silk or cotton scarf.
They also had satin glove boxes or silk envelope type containers back in the day in which to store your gloves. It is interesting to see the original plastic bags with the glove company name on it, but the gloves themselves should not be kept in those plastic bags! If you have the original plastic bag you should remove the gloves and keep it, separated from the gloves, in an envelope made of archival paper.
Also, from Eloise and based on my own experience as well: Measuring the glove laid out flat tells us very little about the size and fit. All the materials including different types of cloth and leather stretch or mold differently on the hand – the pro glove makers knew about this and their sizing back in the day was reliable and based on these varying and differing materials that they used. Complex! But it makes perfect sense!
Personally, I wear a 6.5 to 7 N shoe depending on style and maker and sure enough I wear the same in gloves – depending on style and maker. I like to keep my nails longish. She said they advised women to go a size larger for long nails if needed for finger length. I tried this, but my hands are too slim through the palm and I cannot go bigger than a 7. Thus, I have several size 6.5 and several size 7 pairs that fit. These are all European designer gloves, many leather.
Eloise- wears the same size and we both tried on a pile of her vintage gloves to test this. She has over 100 pairs! Christian Dior fits perfectly in size 6.5 and has longer fingers than some of the others. Hermes also fits perfectly in 6.5. I recently bought a pair of new Ralph Lauren designer leather gloves this winter and had to get size Small. Contemporary size Small is vintage size 6.5 – 7. Most modern gloves are just huge on me!
This information on vintage gloves and glove fitting is based on my own personal research and experience and the experience of my 96 year old friend Eloise, who sold fine gloves for many decades. We are only offering to share our personal experience. That is all it is, personal experience. that we have found valuable and think will help other women.
I was told, recently, by an old man who is selling vintage gloves on his website that, “That information doesn’t apply anymore!” How would he know? We tested it and it worked for us! We are women and we like to wear vintage gloves! A lady selling gloves in her online store wrote me and said, “Well, that was then, we have all gotten much bigger!” I also disagree with her statement! Some people may have gotten bigger, but some have stayed small! I have and so has Eloise and I know plenty of younger women who are fairly small! I am pretty sure these sellers are not wearing the gloves themselves!
I also know that there were medium and larger sized vintage gloves as well. I have come across many pairs that are too big for me. People of all sizes have always existed! This information is provided to help those who wear a bigger size 8 or 9 shoe and glove, or larger, find the correct size as well! It should apply to anyone. It is the place to start when you are beginning the search for vintage and contemporary gloves that will fit and are in good enough condition to wear now!
Eloise also suggests: “Put a little bit of talcum powder on your clean dry hands in order to help you slide them into a pair of tight white leather gloves. After you get the gloves on the heat of your hand will naturally stretch your glove a little bit and mold the leather to a perfect fit. This is a good thing to do after washing a pair of leather gloves to get them on and softened up to wear again. Be sure they are completely dry beforehand!
She goes on to explain, A fine leather glove should fit snugly and should not bag on the hand. Fine, soft glove leather will mold to the hand and stretch with it. This is where the phrase, “It fits like a glove!” came from. When removing a glove do not pull on the cuff, instead, fold back the cuff at the wrist of the glove and gently ease it off the hand and over your fingers.
What is button length? In the world of gloves the length of the glove from the base of the thumb at the wrist, or from the beginning of the thumb gusset, (which is the same starting point) to the hem of the cuff is measured in a term called “buttons” where one button is slightly longer than an inch. This term is derived from an antique French glove maker’s unit of measure. In other words, a four button glove is not decorated with four buttons, (although it could be as well!) it is approximately four inches (actually a tad bit more than four inches) from the base of its thumb to its hem!
Consequently the length of a glove is traditionally expressed in “buttons”, the antique French unit of glove measure which is slightly longer than one inch. It originally must have come from the spacing between the placement of buttons. Button measures are customarily taken from the bottom of the thumb seam or gusset to the top of the glove, and the actual length of the glove in inches from longest fingertip to cuff is 6 to 7 inches longer than the length in buttons. The various traditional lengths are:
2-button: Also known as “shorties”, these are wrist-length gloves, generally 8 to 9 inches long – from fingertips to cuff.
4-button: These gloves are 10 to 11 inches long and cover the wrist, reaching a couple of inches up onto the forearm.
6-button: 12 to 13 inches long, these gloves reach well up onto the forearm. Many “gauntlet” type gloves (i.e., these gloves with flared armpieces in the style of equestrian gauntlets) are this length. A favorite vintage length for daytime wear. In vintage fashion these were worn over ones coat or dress sleeve or, as a dramatic fashion statement in the 1940’s. against a bare arm with a short sleeved dress.
8-button: 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 most closely associated with the actresses in the 50’s who often wore this length with sleeveless or strapless evening gowns.
12-button: 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:
16-button: 22 to 23 inches long – this is the classic length for an opera glove and as a general rule comes with the mousquetaire wrist opening.
21-button: 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. It is so long it almost doubles as a sleeve!
What is a mousquetaire? – It is the buttoned opening at the wrist of the fitted long opera glove. It allowed one to remove the hand and fold it back in order to eat or drink, usually with the assistance of one’s escort, then replace the glove for the remainder of the evening. You also needed this opening in order to put on and remove the gloves. A button hook was sometimes needed to button or undo the little buttons as well. These very long gloves were put on at home and usually worn for the entire evening as they were difficult to both don and remove!
Eloise and I will provide more information soon on the wearing and etiquette of vintage gloves.
For more interesting information visit Wikipedia on the Evening Glove.
In this article and several others I have found reference to measuring your hand for glove size with directions on how to do so. Eloise and I both tested this and also got the exact same results as we got with the shoe size is the same as glove size method! We also had several other women try it with the same results! The measurement method yielded the same size as the shoe size comparison method!
Good luck finding gloves that fit. And, if you have other glove fitting information please share it with us!