Glove Story of the Week - Seventeenth Century ‘Riding’ Gloves | The Fashion Museum

Glove Story of the Week - Seventeenth Century ‘Riding’ Gloves

Welcome to Week Nine of our series showcasing the world-class Glove Collection of the Worshipful Company of the Glovers of London, cared for and housed here in Bath at the Fashion Museum.

5 April 2019

The Grand National Festival takes place from 4-6 April, one of the world’s most famous horse-racing events and a major fixture on the British sporting calendar. Our Glove Story this week, therefore, features a pair of 17th century ‘riding’ gloves.

These are not, however, the type of gloves worn by the intrepid jockeys who will set out on the 4 mile, 2½ furlong course at Aintree Racecourse in the highlight event of the festival, the Randox Health Grand National Steeple Chase on Saturday 6 April. These gloves are far too extravagantly, ridiculously, opulently decorative, with a long looped and twisted gold fringe festooning the gauntlet cuffs. Not at all practical or appropriate for negotiating the drop at Becher’s Brook, one of the most challenging of the fences on the racecourse.

The riding gloves date from around 1680 – 1700 and are made of white leather dyed buff, on the outside only. There is rich-looking embroidery on the back of the glove and at the base of the thumbs on the palm side. The pattern is of stylised pomegranates and leaves; all worked by hand using gold-coloured metal thread, bullion wire, and purl (metal embroidery thread curled like a tiny spring). Metal thread was made of a thin strip of metal wound round a core thread, which was generally cotton or silk. The gloves are also decorated with small metal discs, known as spangles. The spangles form the pips of the pomegranate; these also outline the shape of the design.

The fringe - also known as passementrie, a general term for fringes, tassels, braid or toggles etc. -  is attached in a curved shape to the bottom of the gloves. It is 11cm deep and made up of alternate bands of tightly twisted gold-coloured metal thread and larger loops of purl and metal strip giving a dense forest-like effect.  

The golden fringed gloves have always been catalogued as ‘riding gloves’. But rather than being for practical everyday use, these were more for show and effect. Ornate gloves were part of the ‘costume’, or set-dressing in equestrian portraiture, fashionable in the Baroque period. Artists situated royal and aristocratic figures on horseback as a commanding presence, with the rich and decorative trappings for both horse and subject all part of creating the illusion.

 All in all a far cry from the runners and riders in the Grand National this weekend!

Glove Stories is on display at the Fashion Museum Bath until 1 March 2020. To celebrate we are highlighting one fabulous pair of gloves from rom this wonderful collection every week. The Seventeenth Century ‘Riding’ Gloves are on display in Glove Stories.

Glove images Courtesy of the Worshipful Company of Glovers of London.

Portrait of Louis XIV: Equestrian Portrait of Louis XIV (1638-1715) Crowned by Victory, c.1692 (oil on canvas), Mignard, Pierre (1612-95). Château de Versailles, France / Bridgeman Images