So remember the romance of gloves? Remember the talk about modesty and how people treat you in different clothes? This post relates to those.
Recently, I've taken to wearing the white mesh gloves I have for summer. At first I thought they'd make me more hot, but not so. The mesh allows air flow and the white actually seems to make my hands cooler. (I'm reminded of Civil War re-enactors of my youth, who when asked how they could bear to wear "all those layers" in blistering summer heat, would respond in character "How can you bear to show all that skin to the sun... you must just be roasting!") So when I have a pretty summer dress and cool summer hat, I also put on the pretty mesh gloves and feel quite put-together. What's been especially interesting, though, has been a change in how people treat me.
When I wear a pretty dress and a smile, I may get an occasional nod or smile. Some men, usually older men or black men (older black men are heavily represented in this group) will tell me I look nice.
When I add a fun or pretty hat, I get more comments, from men and women. Nice hats are unusual enough in modern American culture that people feel like I'm breaking a norm, and that allows them to break a norm and speak to me even though I'm a stranger. Hat-wearing women say how nice it is to see another hat-wearer. Some non-hat-wearing women explain apologetically that they're just not "hat people" (not that I ask them to explain anything, but they seem to feel my hat is an accusation they must respond to).
When I add the gloves, though, it's like I've pushed some kind of chivalry button. I don't notice a difference in how women treat me, but suddenly men want to offer me their hands (usually with a courtly flourish) to get on and off the bus. One man sat by me on the train and waxed lyrical about how nice it was to see "an attempt at civility". Why he should think my gloves, rather than my behavior, made me civil, I don't know. Well-dressed men on the bus or train are indifferent to my appearance; they're usually on their phones the whole time. However, the scruffier the man, the more elaborate his genteel attentions: homeless men have stopped asking me for money and started tipping their hats, giving me their seats, and telling me how nice it is to see someone "making an effort".
I do not deceive myself that good manners make a good man--even a cad can act like a gentleman if he wants to! I take their attentions for the surface-level things they are: window-dressing on the interaction, if you will. Yet it is fun: by putting on a costume I have drawn others into my play: I'm a lady, they're gentlemen...
So what about gloves makes this difference? I think, even more than a hat, gloves signal that the wearer is a "lady" or "gentleman", above even touching the world around them. But surely being a lady has more to do with attitude and treatment of others than with a layer of ponte knit! The me in gloves and the me out of them are the same person... I'd be no less of a lady if I dyed my hair platinum and spiked it, or started carrying a giant colorful bag (token of gregariousness) rather than a small purse. So people treat me a little different, but it's not a true thing.
Man judges by the outward appearance, which is good to know when we get dressed in the morning, but doesn't mean those judgments are always correct. Nothing about pulling on gloves turns me from a normal, capable woman into someone who can't navigate public transit without assistance, and nothing about white gloves makes anyone more worthy of praise or care.
Quilting, dressmaking, and history plied with the needle...
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