How to make opera gloves work for you this party season (and beyond)

opera gloves street style
Why opera gloves are everywhere this party seasonEdward Berthelot - Getty Images

Since we emerged misty-eyed from the pandemic, countless fashion-focused articles have been dedicated to the 'joy of dressing up’. It’s true that, over the past 12 months, we have all embraced feathers, sequins and embellishment with an enthusiasm and commitment usually only employed during party season. Pandemic revenge dressing has loomed large – we have returned to glamour as a way of discarding the doom and gloom of lockdowns, in look-at-me dresses, thigh-skimming minis, vibrant colours and sparkling heels. As the shine of the initial post-pandemic fades and we enter winter in earnest, it’s time to reevaluate. We still want energising, refined and mood-boosting looks, but perhaps with less of the razzle dazzle sheen. Enter the opera glove.

It’s an accessory that’s been gathering steam over the past 12 months. Yes, they’ve been big on the catwalk for a few years now, from Halpern and Versace to Dior, and also on the red carpet (Sydney Sweeney, Rihanna and Dua Lipa are all fans), but what’s really noteworthy is how warmly they’ve been welcomed by Gen Z. What was once an item solely worn by high society to the elitist of events is now a favourite on TikTok – the term #operagloves has to date had three million views. Irish glove designer Paula Rowan reports that her brand has seen a 20 per cent rise in elbow-length styles year-on-year, after Lady Gaga wore its fingerless version during her 2022 world tour and in 2021's House of Gucci. Although still synonymous with old Hollywood glamour, they’re now worn with a knowing wink and subversiveness. AW22’s take is about glamour without the snobbery. “Opera gloves never went away,” says Erin Gunn, Farfetch private client senior stylist. “What has changed is how we wear them; now it's much more fun. We see influencers and celebrities wearing them on the red carpet or casually in a multitude of fabrics. It no longer has to be a satin glove worn with an evening gown – Dua Lipa just wore a sheer version with stacked jewellery over them and Rihanna has opted for the trend many times in variations of sheer, lace and leather.”

audrey hepburn on the set of breakfast at tiffany's
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’sSunset Boulevard - Getty Images
<span class="caption">Sydney Sweeney at the Euphoria premiere in January 2022</span><span class="photo-credit">Jeff Kravitz - Getty Images</span>
Sydney Sweeney at the Euphoria premiere in January 2022Jeff Kravitz - Getty Images

The re-imaginings of this accessory have been bountiful. At Dior, they had a more biker edge, at Maison Margiela they came the same colour as washing-up Marigolds and Versace’s take was more overtly sexy. They add instant sophistication to a look, but a choice material or colour can take them into a different, fresher realm altogether. Celebrity stylist Holly White has recently gravitated towards opera gloves when dressing her roster of starlets – her client Jessica Brown Findlay wore a black latex style with her Maison Rabih Kayrouz gown at Venice Film Festival, while House of Dragons Milly Alcock teamed a lace pair with a dazzling, sheer mini dress for a recent promo shoot.

jessica brown findlay
Jessica Brown Findlay at Venice Film Festival in September 2022Vittorio Zunino Celotto

“There is something so elegant and refined about the opera glove, it adds an element to a look that really elevates an outfit,” she explains. “With Jessica Brown Findlay, the gloves really took things to ‘film festival’ level. The fabric contrast added an extra element too - with any black outfit, a variation in fabric can build impact. It’s the little details that I’m searching for that will truly make it a moment.” For LA-based label Cult Gaia, opera gloves highlight a part of the female body that’s usually overlooked – the arms. “Gloves have always been a part of Cult Gaia’s aesthetic. I love ours because they don’t cover your fingers which I think are a beautiful part of a woman’s body,” says designer Yasmin Hekmat. “At Cult Gaia, everything we do and make is to highlight and accentuate the female form. Arms are such a beautiful part of a woman’s body and it’s an honour to celebrate that.”

Part of the appeal of the opera gloves is that they’re a small addition that makes a big difference. They won’t take up lots of space in your wardrobe and they have a timeless quality that makes them seasonless. Luxury fashion brand consultant and content creator Anna Vitiello has long been enamoured with this particular type of glove. “I’ve always had a fascination with them as a fashion accessory – with the women that wore them in the Twenties to the sex appeal of them in the Eighties – and the way they make you feel,” she says. “They lend an elegance and sophistication beyond any other piece of jewellery or heel. It’s a real statement and vote of confidence in your own style to wear an opera glove and there’s something so powerful about that. Ultimately, though, for me, I just love adding a touch of drama, and there’s no accessory more dramatic.”

anna vitiello
Anna Vitiello at Milan Fashion Week in September 2022Edward Berthelot - Getty Images

Vitiello’s collection is varied – classic black elbow-length styles that she wears Audrey Hepburn-style with cocktail dresses, an orange leather version worn to Milan Fashion Week or delicate lace iterations paired with suits or jackets. “Since our coming out of the pandemic, occasionwear has consistently tried to one up itself – more feathers, more sequins, more colour – but ultimately, it can all get a little too much,” she says. “So, we’re looking to find the drama in other places. And gloves give us that and then some.”

tamu mcpherson
Tamu McPherson at Milan Fashion Week in September 2021Claudio Lavenia - Getty Images

Yes, opera gloves do have red-carpet impact, but they’re also easy to wear on an everyday basis. A satin or latex option might be best suited for after-dark (although there really are no rules here), but a leather version is a useful and warm wardrobe foundation. “A long leather glove with your short-sleeved winter coat is very chic,” says White. “They’re a practical staple, like a good white T-shirt, or a great jean.” Erin Gunn agrees: “As we head into winter, they look great with an oversized coat. They play with proportions and streamline the whole outfit. I'd recommend going for a leather version. Black is the easiest way to try the trend but a bright colour can really make an impact on an otherwise simple look. I also think a sheer glove, similar to Dua Lipa, worn with a boxy jacket and classic 501s for an evening at your local wine bar is a very fun way to accessorise.”

caroline daur
Caroline Daur at Milan Fashion Week in September 2022Edward Berthelot - Getty Images

Pleasingly, opera gloves are available at all price points. If you want to go luxury, then Simone Rocha, Valentino and Dries Van Noten offer a mix of pearl-encrusted, lace and leather versions, but Wolford’s collaboration with Mugler boasts a sexy, mid-range sheer option. Anthropology does a versatile satin black iteration, while you can find classic leather elbow-length gloves at & Other Stories. Vitiello buys many of hers from Italian leather glove brand Sermoneta, but also recommends Danish label Rhanders. First things first though, remember that fit is everything. “When the fit is wrong – the fingers or wrist can be too large or too small – they can quickly look a little jokey,” she warns. “Working them into your wardrobe in the most modern way to me is about the unexpected – an orange glove with an all black look or a metallic glove for day – but you’ll never lose if you pair them tonally as they just add that touch of polish.”

For those still feeling intimidated by the glamour of opera gloves, think of them as more of an adaptable style tool to be whipped out of your handbag when the situation calls for instant elegance. “It’s the easiest way to breathe a little life into a tired party look – a black mesh opera glove with your strapless LBD,” says Vitiello. “Just know that everyone will look at you and wonder why they didn’t think of it.”

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