By Leah Dolan, CNN
(CNN) — At the 2023 Academy Museum Gala in Los Angeles last night, not one, but three celebrities arrived in a decidedly retro accessory: Evening gloves. Both Selena Gomez, dressed in Valentino, and Cara Delevigne (wearing Del Core) stepped out in classic black opera gloves, while Jared Leto’s red leather pair — although presumably not elbow-length — peaked out from under his white Givenchy poplin shirt.
First popularized in the 16th century, the opera glove (usually categorized as being between 19 and 23 inches in length) has long been a dependable garment to elevate and exaggerate any ensemble.
Traditionally made of soft kid leather and lined with silk, gloves were once a carefully considered status symbol — and the more embellished the better. Queen Elizabeth I reportedly wore a pair stitched with two inches of gold fringe. Part of the historical allure, too, was that gloves preserved the modesty of the wearer (a key virtue of the 1500s, especially for women) acting as a physical barrier to touch.
The noble and ladylike connotations of elbow-length gloves only persisted over the millennium. In fact, during Hollywood’s Golden Age, they were a vital part of Marilyn Monroe’s seductive charm. While performing the iconic musical number “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from the 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Monroe matches her strapless, hot pink satin gown with a pair of opera gloves — festooned with dazzling bracelets, much like Gomez’s Gala look.
It was a powerful example of sartorial subversion: seeing Monroe, a contemporary “sex bomb,” in the chaste and maidenly accessory (not to mention teamed with the bustier dress) winked at fashion history and its repressive attitudes towards sex.
Today, the item is experiencing a renaissance — appearing on the arms of Bella Hadid, Anne Hathaway, Olivia Rodrigo, Zoë Kravitz, Emma D’Arcy, Mia Goth and more. Though they are still donned by royalty (just last week the Duchess of Cambridge wore a pair of white elbow gloves by Paula Rowan to a state dinner at Buckingham Palace) the versatility of the evening glove makes it a surprisingly playful piece.
For its latest Fall-Winter 2023 campaign, Versace dressed down a pair of black croc-effect leather elbow gloves with blue denim jeans. Similarly, at the 2022 Met Gala actor Kodi Smit-McPhee arrived in a firetruck red pair of Bottega Veneta leather opera gloves scrunched under the sleeve of a white pinstripe shirt and jeans. And though the glove-lovers of the 1500s might have fainted at the sight, Kendall Jenner has even been known to match hers with lingerie.
But there is something endearing about reclaiming a fashion item and thrusting it into an entirely different context. While modesty may not be as highly revered as in the 16th century, elegance — and humor — is timeless. So whether you’re wearing a full-length Valentino gown a lá Gomez, or dusting off a favorite pair of jeans, the glove is here to stay.
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