AN OLD-FASHIONED FASHION — In 1955, Emily Post prescribed these rules of etiquette for women: Always wear gloves and a hat in church, as well as on a city street. Also don gloves when you go to lunch, to a formal dinner, to a restaurant, to the theater, or to a dance. But always take them off when you eat.
Many women used to dress up when going downtown. In hot or cold weather, they also didn’t consider an outfit complete without short gloves. During the early to mid-1900s, numerous ladies owned at least a half-dozen pairs, usually made of cotton or nylon. Some gloves were plain white with a simple finish, while others boasted buttons, ribbons, embroidery, or appliquéd designs. During the early 1960s, the First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, served as an ideal, with her pillbox hat and short white gloves.
If a lady favored a color other than white, moreover, she could choose from a variety of hues. White gloves tended to be used during the summer, according to Barbara Puckett, a former official with the San Marco Preservation Society. The winter months saw more use of such colors as brown, black, and navy blue.
HAND IN GLOVE — Mrs. Puckett remembers the problems that could ensue from a single missing glove. Once, during the Forties, she had to change her clothing when she lost a brown cotton glove with a velvet cuff. Otherwise, Mrs. Puckett just didn’t feel quite right, fashion-wise. The missing piece ruined the ensemble look of her brown purse, brown hat with pin, and brown shoes made of alligator or lizard skin. She quickly switched to a black dress with matching accessories. And, according to Mrs. Puckett, the dress had to conform to the fashion of that day. It hung at just the right length, six to eight inches, from the floor.
Oh, but the ups & downs of fashion! During the later Sixties, such clothing as pantsuits and miniskirts caught on, while the ensemble outfit went out. Except on very formal occasions, gloves are mostly worn nowadays to keep warm.
When white gloves did reign supreme, though, even little kids might wear them in public. According to one long-time Jacksonville resident, she donned white gloves and a straw hat as a five-year-old shopping downtown. During the early 1900s, her parents would place her on a streetcar that stopped at Cohen’s Department Store, located in the St. James Building (today’s City Hall). People felt much safer from crime, so her parents allowed the tot to travel alone, going to pick up a spool of thread or some other notion.
GLOVELESS AND DRESSLESS — Regardless of whether they donned gloves or not, most ladies wouldn’t get caught dead downtown improperly dressed. And much unlike today, shorts were considered inadequate attire for Jacksonville’s streets. Mrs. Puckett recalls the first time that she saw women who dared to be different in this regard. As a little girl during the 1940s, she sat one day with her family in their car, parked in front of the old First Baptist sanctuary, which is located behind the St. James Building. A couple of young women sauntered by in shorts, while Mrs. Puckett and her family stared in amazement. The “scantily clad” women didn’t seem like tourists or ladies of the evening. This made their lack of cover seem even more brazen!
~written by Glenn Emery