When cars debuted in the 1890s, long-distance travel started to become more accessible to a wider audience, but the physical act of driving was no easy task. Roads were unpaved and cars lacked windshields and hard tops. Drivers were exposed to the weather and they needed specially designed clothes and accessories to make driving more comfortable and safe.
Retailers quickly realized the monetary potential of this new apparel sector full of wealthy people. “You may have perfectly good tires and lots of gas and oil… but if you are not comfortable yourself, you don’t enjoy riding,” one advertiser wrote. “You need proper motoring clothes.”
“Proper motoring clothes” consisted of heavy, waterproof coats, hats, boots, goggles — and gloves. Driving was a far more manual task back then; imagine cranking an engine by hand to get it started, then gripping a metal, open-air steering wheel in the cold weather and manhandling a vehicle without power steering. Without good gloves, your hands would be hurting awfully quickly.
In fact, drivers often traveled with two pairs of gloves — one for gripping the steering wheel and one for changing tires. These gloves looked much different than ones do today. Since steering mechanisms and logistics were rather crude, gloves were made of thick leather, sometimes lined with wool, and reached all the way back to cover the cuff of your coat. Once a driver was out of the car, these gloves weren’t very practical, so they would leave them behind — in the aptly-named glove box.
During the 1930s, cars began gaining heaters that effectively kept drivers and passengers warm. With warming thickness no longer needed, driving glove evolved into a shorter, tighter-fitting shape made of thin leather. The gloves often featured extra stitching on the palms for enhanced grip and perforations to keep your hands from sweating, features that kept drivers comfortable and allowed them to hold the wheel less tightly. Driving gloves also became a status symbol: you were considered high class if you had light-color gloves that were kept clean.
As cars became more high-tech, the popularity of driving gloves began to decline. Non-slip, rubberized steering wheels were easy to grip with bare hands, and power steering meant the wheel was easier to turn. Men like Steve McQueen and James Bond continued to wear driving gloves, however, keeping them in pop culture as items of style, rather than function.
Nowadays, driving gloves have been featured prominently in movies that focus on driving; the main characters in Drive, Spectre and Baby Driver all wear the hand covers over the course of their flicks. In the real world, they’re generally favored by people who drive older, open-air classic and antique cars.
Driving gloves today are typically unlined and made out of soft, grippy leather. They can be machined or hand-sewn, found with or without fingertips or knuckle holes, and bought in a wide range of colors and back styles. Below, you’ll find the styles we like best.
Dents Delta Classic Leather Driving Gloves
There’s no denying the classic style of these brown leather driving gloves.
Connolly + Goodwood Full-Grain Leather Driving Gloves
Goodwood is one of the best-known names in the motoring world, thanks to decades of putting on automotive events. These gloves made in partnership with the Goodwood estate blend old-school cool with poppin’ yellow contrast and a Velcro strap for a personalized fit.
Dents Silverstone Touchscreen Driving Gloves
Just because your car is old-fashioned doesn’t mean your whole life needs to be. These gloves look as cool as McQueen’s, but let you operate the iPhone he couldn’t even have dreamed of.
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