Regency Reader Questions: Glove Etiquette Part One


Question: I am confused about glove etiquette. When did a gentleman remove his gloves?

Some specific examples from the reader demonstrate what a tangled web is the etiquette of gloves.  You may remember my post a year or so ago about gentlemen’s gloves and some of the contradictory instructions about how when/where men might take off their gloves.  The most unanimous direction was that a gentleman never ate supper in his gloves.

My reader has already read Geri Walton’s excellent primer on glove etiquette and come up with the following questions which may also be a source of confusion for other readers and writers so I would like to walk through them and offer my best approximation of an answer based on research.  Since there were a lot of questions, I split this post in to two parts with part two to arrive next week (so stay tuned).

How often did a gentleman remove only his right glove, and did he then immediately put it back on after, eg, shaking hands? Did men remove their gloves at balls, when dancing? I thought their attire included gloves to cover their perspiration.

The picture above shows men dancing with gloves on, and one poised at the ready with the right glove in his left hand.

From everything I have read, gentlemen wore their gloves during dancing.  If they removed it to shake a hand, it would be put back on before touching a lady.

The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness

…Men were also advised that when going places where they were likely to meet people,  it was “well to have the glove of your right hand off.”

Did men actually walk around at gatherings with one glove on, one glove off? If you were at Tattersalls or the Cotton Exchange, for example, where you would absolutely expect to meet others, would you really roam around with one glove on, one off?

I think if you were in a receiving line, or other group setting where you were likely to be shaking a lot of hands, then yes it makes sense to hold your right glove in your left hand while you shake hands.  But as for walking around gloveless with no immediate expectation of  shaking of hands…not likely.

Here is a good excerpt which speaks to balls:

Etiquette for Gentlemen, Or, Short Rules and Reflections for Conduct in Society (1847)

Why is just the right glove called out? If you call on a friend, you meet him inside, you remove both gloves, right? Again, if you actually remove only the right glove, would you then immediately put it back on after shaking hands?

I think the assumption is that most are right handed and therefore would be shaking with their right hand.  And again, I think if you were not likely to shake another hand, you would put your glove back on.

…If a person did wear gloves outdoors, the gloves were to be removed when shaking hands. This was because, as one etiquette expert put it, “it is ridiculous to keep the person waiting while extricating the hand from the glove.”

Er,… Removing the gloves does keep the other person waiting.  What am I not ‘getting’ here?

I think you are getting it very well, indeed.  Gloves were a complicated, silent language of etiquette that is lost on modern Western culture.

This is part two (since it is so complicated) with more to come… (See Part Two and Part Three for more)

In the meantime, read Geri Walton’s very excellent post on gloves in the 1800s:

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