Gloves evolved from the desire to protect the hands from cold and from heavy manual labour. Among the numerous examples discovered in parts of Northern Europe are “bag gloves,” sheaths of animal skin that reach to the elbow. These mittens are at least ten thousand years old.
The earliest peoples to inhabit the warm lands bordering the Mediterranean used gloves for construction and farming. Among these southerners, the Egyptians, around 1500 B.C., were the first to make gloves a decorative accessory. In the tomb of King Tutankhamen, archaeologists retrieved a pair of soft linen gloves wrapped in layers of cloth, as well as a single tapestry glove woven with coloured threads. Strings around the tops of the gloves indicate they were tied to the wrist. And the separate fingers and thumb leave no doubt that hand-shaped gloves were used at least 3,500 years ago.
Regardless of the warmth of the climate, every major civilization eventually developed both costume and work gloves. In the fourth century B.C., the Greek historian Xenophon commented on the Persian production of exquisitely crafted fur costume gloves; and in Homer’s Odyssey, Ulysses, returning home, finds his father, Laertes, labouring in the garden, where “gloves secured his hands to shield them from the thorns.” It was the Anglo-Saxons, calling their heavy leather hand covering glof, meaning “palm of hand,” who gave us the word “glove.”