A glove affair

Christopher Pincher on great glove-making

Back in the days when the sixties were still swinging and when gentlemen’s outfitters advertised their wares in shop windows and not in Windows 11, no mannequin, suited, hatted and shod, would be complete without gloves. From Savile Row to Carnaby Street, and every high street in between, the rule was the same. Even Tommy Nutter fell into line. The sartorial signal sent out to all said “you are only properly dressed when your head and hands are dressed too”.

Times have changed. The King’s coronation saw an array of outfits ill-fitted to the occasion, not to mention those historic and traditional items of apparel that were absent entirely from it. Gone were the coronets and the tiaras, the breeches and the buckles. All cocked hats were kicked out. Only Garter King of Arms looked like he had ignored the dress down decree.

One garment that did make the Carolingian cut was the Glove of Worksop. The manorial right to present this tribute dates to the reign of Edward the Confessor whose chastity is represented in its colour. The gauntlet is purest white, reminding us that clothes do not merely connote style, they can also convey meaning. A glove from Worksop was known to have been worn by Richard II (he of the White Harts) although our present King wore the one made for his grandfather, King George VI, by Dents of Worcester.

Once upon a time in England the Midlands was awash with glovers. The firms of Fownes, and Alwyn’s, as well as Dents, were founded in Worcester. Now sadly nearly all are gone. Alwyn’s went last when its 95-year-old founder, Les Winfield, sewed his final fourchette finger. Only Dents has survived, and they have moved to Warminster.

One of the challenges for modern glovers is finding apprentices prepared to put in the time, and put up with the meagre salary, to hone their art. That was a reason Mark Pearce cited for the closure of his own firm, Chester Jefferies, in 2022. Yet personnel have been less of a problem in Italy where handmade glove-making has never gone out of fashion.

Five generations of the Neapolitan Squillance family have been sewing Omega gloves for more than a century. Situated in the Sanità district, these artisans toil in their ateliers through 25 hand-crafted stages to produce a small number of beautiful items in lamb, deer, peccary, and carpinchos made from the hide of the South American Capybara, one of world’s softest yet strongest leathers.

Almost next door, on the renowned Via Guantai Nuovi, Andreano’s glovers stretch their hides across ancient worktables, so polished by the process that they shine like glass, to find the perfect pieces for cutting. Up the Autostrada del Sole in Rome, Giorgio Sermoneta still welcomes visitors to his family-run store on the Piazza de Spagna. Fuchsia pink and royal blue may still be reserved for the ladies, but a young Roman galantuomo can still cut a dash down the Spanish Steps clad in Canali suit and Sermoneta gloves of mustard yellow carpincho.

Back in Blighty our home-grown glovers are struggling, so as much as I love Italian leatherware I do hope discerning readers shop on these shores. Dents, founded by John Dent in 1777, continues the tradition of close craftsmanship with every handsewn stitch. Quirks in the fingers and delicate cuff tacking guarantee a snug glove that will last for decades, unless you leave them in a train as I have.

I daresay somewhere, and around other wrists, they are still going strong. But should your finger-warmers suffer the depredations of time, Dents offers a full repair service where you will receive very personal care. When next, like Burlington Bertie, you stroll down The Strand, be sure you wear “your gloves on your hand”, and the brighter the better, because an English man-about-town can still pull it “orf”.

This article is taken from the July 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10

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