Here is a sentence we never thought we’d say: opera gloves are cool again. Yes, those past-the-elbow ones that used to be worn by ladies of good standing at the, well, opera. Also known as evening gloves, this vintage accessory fell by the wayside years ago, but in recent months it has been spotted (and sported) again on the runways as well as red carpets. The Spring/Summer 2020 shows saw Gucci, Moschino, Off-White, and more give their take on the OG (pun intended) last September, and the look quickly got the seal of approval from Rihanna and Beyoncé, which cemented its status as the accessory du jour.
While gloves can be traced way back to the 14th-century BCE to King Tutankhamun, only in the 1700s did the extra-long version become a necessary accoutrement. With the introduction of short-sleeve fashions, social etiquette demanded that upper class women wear gloves to protect their modesty. Such a practice persisted until the First World War, when lavish clothing was set aside in favour of a more utilitarian wardrobe, and gloves were considered impractical and frivolous.
The style subsequently experienced its (first) full revival in the post-war beauty standards of the 1950s. Evening gloves were a requisite for young women being presented at the debutante balls then popular among high society circles, but the real resurgence of those years owed its impetus to celebrity stardom. Hollywood actresses frequently donned long gloves both on screen and off, with unforgettable cinematic moments including Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Rita Hayworth in Gilda, and Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the latter of which served as the influence behind Madonna’s Material Girl music video.
But the light of opera gloves quickly dimmed once more, as second-wave feminism erupted in the ‘60s, ushering in the sexual and sartorial liberation of the following decades, when women no longer felt obliged to adhere to convention. Gloves were relegated to the sphere of sovereignty, worn by the likes of Queen Elizabeth and Jackie Kennedy, although Princess Diana later blazed her own trail, as she often did, with several memorable (read: colourful and sometimes mismatching) pairs.
And now the trend has come full circle. But not in the way you might expect. Far from the strait-laced and snooty undertones of yore, these days opera gloves run the gamut from sensual and elegant, like Zoë Kravitz at the SAG Awards and Ariana Grande at the Grammys, to bright and bold, like Margot Robbie’s hot pink look or Lizzo’s feathery zebra-print pair, to downright wacky, like Moschino’s Surrealist interpretations or Off-White’s hole-punched, armpit-grazing design.
Thinking of taking opera gloves out for a spin? It isn’t nearly as daunting as it seems. Scroll through the gallery below for inspiration:
On the runway
On the red carpet