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Should You Start Wearing Opera Gloves, Too? The Top Accessory Trend Explained

Fashion Beauty Runway - Should You Start Wearing Opera Gloves, Too? The Top Accessory Trend Explained 1
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Over the past year, opera gloves (the extra-long model that goes way above the elbow and stops just short of the underarm) have been showing up repeatedly on catwalks, premieres, and awards shows. And on your feeds, too. Of course. If you don’t see it on social media, it never happened! 

If these elegant accessories were once the staple of old Hollywood glamour and royalty — Marylin Monroe! Queen Elizabeth! —, they’re now much more casual and worn playfully, even midday. Just look at the sheer multitude of fabrics opera gloves are now being made out of. Leather and satin are, of course, favoured fabrics. But there’s also lace, tulle, latex and swimsuit jersey. Yes, there is even something called “swim gloves” to match with your bikini that will keep you chic and sexy, poolside. 

But — hold on one second —, how did we get here? 

Renaissance of the Gloved Hand 

The year was 2017 and visionary fashion designer Demna Gvasalia, currently the creative director of Balenciaga and cofounder of Vetements, sent models down the runway adorned in gloves. Lots of them. The idea has stayed with him, since. And, well, we’ve all seen Kim Kardashian, one of the most ardent fans of Balenciaga (or maybe they pay her really well), enveloped in the brand’s second skin dresses, sheaths and pantaboots accessorized with the requisite long leather or spandex gloves. 

In 2020, the pandemic made us all reach for latex gloves as PPE (personal protective equipment) became the norm anytime we dared venture outside our safe havens. The fashion world interpreted this need with its own version, known as “surgical glove couture.”  Was it a coincidence that in 2020 long opera gloves were the biggest accessory of awards season? They were even seen in mainstream music videos (cue WAP, Olivia Rodrigo’s Good 4 You, and countless others). And by the time the Regency drama Bridgerton started streaming, with its parade of court and wannabe influencer ladies adorned in bustles, corsets and long gloves, the look had taken shape in the minds of fashionistas everywhere. 

According to Vanessa Friedman, Fashion Director of the New York Times, who asked some designers to explain the appeal of the gloved hand and arm: “ [it has to] do with extending the visual line of the arm. Gloves worn in the same color as, say, a sweater or jacket create an elegant lengthening effect — for day or evening. Gloves can also add an interesting counterpoint to a dress, toughening up a lacy look, for example, or softening a strict one […].” So, safe to say you can wear your fine leather gloves with a muscle T-shirt, this summer. 

Beyond High Society 

While white opera gloves are still mandatory for female debutantes at the Vienna Opera Bal, formal wear is changing rapidly and adapting to shifting technologies and lifestyles. Items that were once unattainable have been recontextualized. That’s what has led to, for example, to Justin Bieber wearing pearl necklaces and Harry Styles piling up fine jewelry on his nail polished hands. Traditions are being broken down and elements that were once exclusively worn by the happy few are now accessible to most. 

We’re a long way from the scene in which Audrey Hepburn, dressed in a long black evening gown, hair pulled up in a dainty chignon and wearing opera gloves, casually eats a croissant in the opening scene of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” from 1961. This same glove’s semiotic significance has gotten more casual. It’s still very chic but with a modern twist. 

In the era of special occasion dressing (which is a growing category in fashion, at the moment), with feathers, sequins and embellishments worn with abandon outside the usual events like weddings, black tie and cocktail, long gloves are the accessory du jour with staying power, crossing over from evening and red carpet attire to everyday clothing. 

Basically, there are no rules. But if you want to buy a pair of opera gloves that will take you many places, with many different looks, the black leather model is a great foundation. Just like a great crisp cotton Oxford shirt, or the preferred pair of jeans you love slipping into. 

According to Canadian fashion show producer Hans Koechling of The Image Is… “what’s interesting to see is that there is a boom with gloves and hosiery, at the moment.” Having just come back from Europe from viewing the Fall-Winter 2023 collections, Hans says opera gloves are a glam way to accessorize a modern way of living. They really dress up everything. “They also bring a nice twist to an outfit that would not be necessarily as interesting. Even punk rockers wore leather gloves to elevate shredded T-shirts and torn clothing. It’s about the contrasts.”

Fashion Beauty Runway - Should You Start Wearing Opera Gloves, Too? The Top Accessory Trend Explained 3

Where to Shop for Opera Gloves? 

The majority of renowned international designers have been showcasing gloves in their collections from the last two to three years, with Dior to Versace, to Balenciaga topping the offer with everything from biker-inspired to more streamlined, minimal options. Great assortments can also be found on high-end online Canadian mammoth retailer Ssence, while fast-fashion brands such as Zara have also been offering the on-trend accessory. 

In Canada, Portolano is a fourth-generation family-owned business based in Ontario that designs and manufactures mid-priced knit and leather gloves for men and women. And, yes, they also offer opera-length leather gloves with the traditional mousquetaire: a buttoned opening on the inside of the wrist allowing the wearer to eat dinner without having to remove the glove, in the Victorian era. Or — super important! — access to the keypad of their phone, in 2023. 

If you’re looking for high-quality opera gloves in kid leather, rayon or silk at a more affordable price, head over to vintage, thrift shops, or etsy.ca. The reason? These special occasion accessories were sometimes worn only once and have been carefully kept under wraps for decades. And you can also find tons of deadstock, the name given to goods that have never been sold or used, in mint, original, condition. 

Any way you play them, gloves are a great addition to your assortment of fashion accessories. Just have fun! 

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