Gloves, Past and Present
The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.
PAST AND PRESENT
Most men, apparently, take their glovesfor granted. In these days the little refinementsof civilization are accepted amongus without a thought; but in so doingwe lose a great deal of enjoyment which wenever were intended to overlook. Least of allare our gloves commonplace. Mr. Chestertonhas something to say about TremendousTrifles. To my mind, he might have been talkingabout gloves. If you choose to think ofthem as trifles, then they are tremendous.
For thirty years I have devoted myself tothe practical problems of the glove industry,and my connection with one of the substantialfirms of master-merchant-glovers in the worldhas taught me how little gloves are known orappreciated by the millions of persons who buythem and wear them. The pursuit of glove lore—thehistoric romance of the glove—has longsince been with me a selfish recreation. NowI desire to share it, as well as the practicalknowledge, with all men and women who havemissed seizing upon the real relation whichgloves bear to life.
In the work of gathering together and arrangingthe material in this book, I wish toacknowledge my gratitude to Miss MarionSavage, who has collaborated faithfully withme, and has shared in no small degree my ownenthusiasm for gloves, past and present.
|II.||Ancient History of Gloves||9|
|III.||The Language of Gloves||18|
|IV.||How Gloves Came to Grenoble||30|
|V.||Glovers in the Eighteenth Century||41|
|VI.||Gloves in Many Marts||52|
|VII.||From Artist to Artisan||67|
|VIII.||Annonay and Its Industry||79|
|IX.||The Gloves We Buy||90|
|X.||Gloves of the Hour||107|
“None other symbol—the cross excepted—has so enteredinto the feelings and the affections of men, or so ruled andbound in integrity and right the transactions of life, asthe glove.”—William S. Beck.
It is no unusual thing to meet Americanwomen who are connoisseurs of the hand-madelaces brought to this country fromabroad. Laces, like painting or sculpture,are an object of study; they have been raisedto the level of the fine arts. But how oftendo we come across a woman—it matters nothow intelligent she may be—who has any realstandards to guide her in the selection ofgloves? Whether we have need, in a businesssense, of expert knowledge on this subjector not, nearly everybody spends enoughmoney yearly on this single detail of dressto be interested to know just what he isgetting. Yet, there is scarcely any otherdepartment of merchandise with which theaverage person has so hasty and superficialan acquaintance. Nor is this by any meansthe layman’s own fault entirely.
Let us look for a moment at the fabricswhich go into the making of women’s suitsand gowns; shoes, men’s shirts, carpets andfurs: we recognize that all these long havebeen a matter of public education. Where isthe woman who does not know the leadingmaterials for coats and dresses? She maylive far from the great commercial centres,2but her women’s magazine, published in NewYork, Philadelphia or Chicago, brings herdescriptions by an expert, with colored, photographicreproductions, of the fashionablenovelties. As for the experienced cityshopper, if she were tested with her eyes shut,simply by touching the fabric she couldidentify it in most cases and could readilydistinguish between goods of fine and inferiorquality.
In the carpet department not infrequentlya customer talks intelligently of “threeframe” and “six frame” Brussels, or insistsupon being shown “hand-cut” Wilton. Eventhe male shopper is not so indifferent in thesedays as not to know the names of the severalvarieties of fine cottons of which his shirtsare made. He is aware of the differencebetween plain woven madras and crepemadras; he may prefer cotton cheviot, andwill stipulate whether it shall be the Oxfordor the “basket” weave. But if he be reallyfastidious, the chances are that he willdemand “soisette.” In the last few years anamazing amount of style and seasonal varietyhave been introduced into shoes and furs.The result is that in these lines we feelobliged to be informed up to the minute. But,while fabrics and fashions in gloves constantlyare changing, how much discriminationdo most persons display in the selectingof this equally important item of apparel?
A well-dressed woman enters the glovedepartment of a large shop on Fifth Avenue,New York. She may be an independent professionalwoman or she may be the wife ordaughter of a man of means. In either case3she should be concerned to know what valueshe receives for the money she spends. Sheasks for mocha gloves; but finding theserather more expensive than she had supposed,she may be persuaded to accept asueded sheepskin under the misnomer ofmocha, which substitute—could she but knowit—is a fraud, as even the finest suedes inpoint of durability are invariably inferiorto, while they strikingly resemble, theArabian mocha. The fallacy consists in hernot being educated to know that it is thegenuine mocha which she requires and forwhich she should be perfectly willing to pay.The unqualified superiority of real mocha tosueded sheepskin is worth every cent of thedifference she would put into the purchase.
On the other hand, a man has been toldthat the only serviceable heavy glove for commonwear is the cape glove. He insists, therefore,upon having the genuine cape—a nameoriginally and properly used to designategloves made of superior skins from the Capedistrict of South Africa. As a matter of fact,the soft, pliable, widely-worn glove invarious weights, now commercially knownas cape, is made from skins grown in manylands—principally lamb, tanned and dressedby the “napa dipped” method. In consequenceof having wool hide, these skins arenot so tough as the Cape Hope goat with thehair hide. One pays less for them than forthe real cape, but, for ordinary appearance,they are a fair substitute, and theirwearing qualities undoubtedly meet theaverage requirement. A practical saving ofthis sort the public should be taught toappreciate.
4But not for material reasons alone shouldgloves be given a prominent place in the curriculumof popular “uplift.” In the mostobvious sense they are too little known, toovaguely appreciated, to be sure; and yet, thesatisfaction of being well-gloved consists insomething more than merely the delightfulsensation of having one’s hands neatly,warmly and substantially covered. We thinkof gloves first, no doubt, as a daily necessity.But we also value the finer qualities as amark of elegance. Beautiful gloves impartthe coup de grace to the formal costume ofeither man or woman. At the same time,clinging to this luxury, like a perfume ofold, we are dimly conscious of an aura ofhalf-forgotten associations, linking the glovewith royalty, chivalry and romance; withfamous affairs of honor, with the pomp andceremonial of the Church, with countlessdramatic episodes in history and literature.
How does it happen that, instinctively, weinvest this trifle with so much meaning? Canit be that we are the repository of memoriesof past splendors, invoked by a familiarobject which has all but lost its symbolic andpoetic significance of ancient times? Evento-day the wearing of gloves lends to theindividual a sense of dignity and personaldistinction. Like Mrs. Wilfer, of Dickensfame, our grandeur is increased by our gloves.
In the pages which follow we shall discoverthat the background of our subject isone of the richest and most picturesque wecould desire to explore. Gloves have deeplyaffected the lives of human beings from thevery earliest periods. They have descended5to us from a remote antiquity, and are in veryfact our inherited title to nobility, for theywere bequeathed to us by the princely prelates,the kings and over-lords of the past,whose chief insignia and most treasuredbadge of honor was the glove. To comprehendall that they have brought with themdown through the centuries we must retracea vast deal of history, and let our imaginationsplay over scenes and customs farremoved from our own day.
We shall find the glove intimately boundup with the development of social usages inevery land. To solemn observances in whichthe glove filled a special role, much of theimpressiveness of the stately rites of themediæval church was due. The white linenglove on the hand of a bishop literally representedto the people the stainless purity ofthe revered palm raised in benediction. Theglove itself was holy. No layman dared toclothe his hands in the presence of the clergy.Kings and the military, however, wore gloveswith quite a different meaning. In appearance,also, their gloves were utterly unlikethose consecrated for religious use. Of heavyleather, elaborately tooled or decorated, orthe mailed gauntlet which formed part of awarrior’s armor, they signified authority,power, and were often conveyed from oneprince to another as an expression of hostility,or as a promise of good faith.
Princely etiquette, indeed, revolved aboutthe glove to such a degree that the latterbecame, as it were, the proxy of its master,his embassador, the mute herald of the royalwill. What a high ethical bond and pledge6of honor that leathern effigy of a ruler’s handactually constituted! And as the glovedescended with the customs of feudal tenurefrom sovereign to liege lord, and becamegradually the regalia of a growing landedaristocracy, how the manners of semi-barbarousEurope were moulded and softenedby the glove! At first we find it the jealousdevice of the royal few. Then it becomes thebadge of superiority among the over-lords.Their followers receive it; and, slowly,through the centuries, this fascinating bit ofpersonal apparel works like leaven until itat last is recognized as the mark of gentlefolkeverywhere. It spreads in proportion asliberty and culture are diffused among thepeople. Follow the progress of the glove, andyou trace the growth in enlightenment andrefinement of the nations. One of the trueforerunners of democracy—as democracymeans the elevating, not the levelling, of mankind—theglove takes its place among thecivilizing forces of the world.
No small part of the importance whichattaches to the subject of these investigationslies in the relation gloves bear to the historyof modern industry. We shall find that theposition of the glove-makers among themediæval craftsmen was unique, and of theutmost consequence to the industrial evolutionof Europe. The life of a French city hasdepended for many centuries upon thedevelopment of the glove drama. And, intheir turn, what