Opera Gloves are long (elbow-length or longer, usually reaching to the upper arm or even the shoulder) gloves worn by women as an accessory, usually to a formal outfit such as an evening gown or wedding dress. The "elbow-length or longer" part is the key; gloves which cover a substantial portion of the forearm, up to just below the elbow, can legitimately be called "long gloves" or "evening gloves", but never "Opera Gloves".
Most popular during the Regency Era (roughly 1790 to 1814, so you'll see them in a lot of Jane Austen adaptations), the late Victorian Era, The Gay Nineties and The Edwardian Era (roughly 1870 to 1914), and the World War II years through the early Sixties. Mostly confined to "specialist" fashions since then (wedding gowns, debutante outfits and the like), though there was a minor revival in the 1980's.
Opera Gloves are usually associated with the following character types (not an exclusive list, but these are the types most frequently seen wearing long gloves:
As noted, Opera Gloves are closely associated with the aristocracy and royalty, especially during the 1870-1914 period, (in fact, gloves in general have been a symbol of royalty and authority for millennia) and many fictional queens, princesses and noblewomen will be portrayed as wearing them as part of their dresses (would be Gorgeous Period Dress, but those were worn in Real Life as well). Also, in the late Victorian era these were required with "full décolleté" (low-necked and short-sleeved) evening dresses worn to Operas and other formal events, to avoid showing too much bare arm. Yet the gloves themselves are Simple Yet Opulent compared to those dresses; plain white kid leather is one of the most frequently used materials, and the material considered the most appropriate for gloves to be worn with formal dress. More elaborate materials, decorations and bright colors (or even black leather) are usually reserved for less formal contexts.
They can also be Fetish Fuel, especially when worn as part of a dominatrix outfit, or if featured in a scene with a stripper (or somebody imitating a stripper) where the ecdysiast slowly removes her gloves, one at a time. Opera Gloves are often paired with strapless gowns, as a way of emphasizing the wearer's bustline: see "Miss Manners"'s remarks below in the Real Life section.
Commonly paired with a Pimped-Out Dress, Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry, Pretty in Mink (whether a fur wrap or fur coat), Parasol of Prettiness, Of Corsets Sexy.
Compare Zettai Ryouiki (which involves long socks), Detached Sleeves.
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Anime & Manga
Sailor Moon as Eternal Sailor Moon, and in the manga where all the Sailor Senshi get an similar power upgrade/costume change all of them have these over the elbow gloves. Prior to that they either wore elbow length gloves - except for Sailor Uranus and Neptune who get mid-forearm length ones.
Izumi, Mitsuki and Anna boost the Fetish Fuel quotient of their Meido outfits in He Is My Master by wearing white Opera Gloves with black cuffs around the tops. (A great many variants of the French Maid or Meido outfit will include fancy gloves of some kind, though said gloves are more often than not wrist-length.)
Sorata Muon's female assistants in Mouse often wear Opera Gloves as part of their working outfits when they go a-burgling with him, or to add an extra dollop of Fetish Fuel when they want to have fun with him.
Emma Frost is particularly fond of them (logically enough considering her socialite background), with or without complete fingers, and has worn them as a standard part of her outfit from the beginning.
Another famous Marilyn Opera Gloves scene is her "That Old Black Magic" production number from Bus Stop. As Cherie, Marilyn wears a distinctly down-at-the-heels showgirl outfit, including very cheap-looking black opera gloves.
Famous Marilyn Opera Gloves scene number 3: MM wears glittery black Opera Gloves with a strapless tiger-stripe gown as she vamps Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch (in an Imagine Spot of his).
Gina Lollobrigida in La Donna Piu Bella Del Mondo(Beautiful But Dangerous) and many other movies.
Sophia Loren in Madame, A Breath of Scandal and Lady L.
Ava Gardner in The Great Sinner, 55 Days at Peking, One Touch of Venus, My Forbidden Past, etc. Oddly enough, she does not wear black Opera Gloves in the actual scene in the movie that made her a star, The Killers, though many photographs exist of her wearing gloves with that outfit.
The original Broadway production of One Touch of Venus also had Mary Martin wearing opera gloves with the sleekest gown in her Mainbocher wardrobe.
Almost any Golden Age of Hollywood musical will have at least one big "production number" with either the lead actress/singer and/or her backup singers/dancers wearing Opera Gloves as part of their Pimped-Out Dress.
Virtually any filmed adaptation of one of Jane Austen's novels:
Lee Remick in the 1974 BBC miniseries Jennie (playing Lady Jennie Jerome Churchill, mother of Winston Churchill).
Played for horror in Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, as one of the female Cenobites has opera gloves made of her own flayed skin, pulled back onto her arms. It's possible to tell because the skin's rolled up a little.
Though he never actually wears them, Dr. Claw could count as a rare male example in Inspector Gadget when Kramer shows him some more normal hands he could use when in public. One hand is based on this trope.
Loretta Young in The Devil To Pay, as explained by Miss Manners: "The reason for the gloves is immodesty, a principle that young people, brought up to run about half-naked, do not understand. The idea is, the lower the dress, the higher the gloves. Miss Young very properly did not want to put on an extremely low-cut dress only to have people stare at her bare elbows."
Francesca Annis, playing Lillie Langtry, wore Opera Gloves in almost every episode of the BBC miniseries Lillie.
Phoebe Cates and many other actresses in the Lace and Lace II miniseries.
Morgan Fairchild as Irene Adler in the TV movie Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady.
Catherine Zeta Jones in the TV-movie version of Titanic.
On The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob (Dick Van Dyke) and Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) were going to a formal dinner party in Alan Brady's place, to accept an award for [something]. The group presenting the award was Black. That day they both managed to dye their hands black while making a stormcloud costume for Richie of a school play. They both wore Opera Gloves to cover their hands (Rob stuffed the gloves up his sleeves) in order to cover up their hands lest their black hands be misconstrued; but Rob revealed the truth to the group, and a good laugh was had by all.
Catherine Deneuve in the French 2003 miniseries of Dangerous Liaisons, which transplanted the story to a late 1950's/early 1960's setting.
Isabella Rosellini in the A&E miniseries Napoleon.
Centuries-old vampire and nightclub owner Janette in Forever Knight has been known to wear them as part of her classy, old-fashioned dress—though in fact they're rather new-fangled compared to the period she came from.
Mexican actress and singer Aracely Arambula in the telenovela Corazon Salvaje and the current stage production Perfume de Gardenia.
In Scrubs JD has an Imagine Spot of Elliott as a burlesque dancer complete with pink opera gloves. As part of her dance she peels one off and throws it to the Todd.
The three lead actresses of Dracula - Katie McGrath, Jessica De Gouw, and Victoria Smurfit. McGrath (Lucy Westenra) and De Gouw (Mina Murray), in keeping with their Red Oni, Blue Oni characterization, wear contrasting glove colors to match their outfits.
She has always been fond of gloves of various kinds, particularly lace gloves; as of 2011, she's taken to wearing long black leather gloves with cut-off fingers with almost all her outfits.
SHIMMER girl Rayna Von Tash wears them to go along with her burlesque pin-up girl gimmick and yes she does peel them off as part of her entrance.
The Muppets: Miss Piggy wears lavender opera gloves most of the time, and is very, very rarely seen without any gloves at all.
Magic: The Gathering: Liliana Vess sported a set on her card during Innistrad block. With the horror movie stylings of Innistrad and Liliana's own status as a very elegant, albeit evil, sorceress, they were probably a natural fit.
Barbie has Opera Gloves as an accessory for many of her outfits, but due to the difficulty in modeling fashion dolls' hands to the required level of detail, they're more like pointy arm socks.
Mel Odom's "Gene Marshall" fashion doll series boasts many outfits accessorized with Opera Gloves.
City of Heroes: It's pretty easy to create these using the costume editor.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy: Terra wears them. Like the Garnet example, they cover the back of her hand, but not the fingers.
Final Fantasy IX: Garnet's Princess dress, although the gloves are not totally covering the hands. If you mean the type where the fingers are bare and there's a ring around the middle finger holding the glove sleeve in place, yes. Some purists hold that these aren't really gloves at all, since they don't sheathe the fingers.
Fire Emblem: A militaristic variant is seen in many of these games. Many female characters wear short sleeves or no sleeves with pauldrons and opera-length gauntlets, such as Eda◊ from Thracia 776 or Lucia◊ in Radiant Dawn.
Guild Wars: Female player characters of several professions (Mesmer, Elementalist, Paragon, Necromancer) can wear Opera Gloves (or gloves resembling them in style) as part of their outfits. Judging from some screenshots, female characters of certain professions can select Opera Gloves for their outfits in Guild Wars 2 as well.
Hitman: Female (civilian) bystanders in several installments of this series wear evening gowns and Opera Gloves.
Also Yukari Yakumo, probably more notably. Yukari seemingly wants to project a Proper Lady image, complete with Parasol of Prettiness, although given the other characters' reaction to her such an image is doomed to fail.
In Garanos, Geilen wears a pair to cover up the marks of her illness.
Ivy in Lackadaisy wears a pair with her evening dress. Good example of Shown Their Work - while flappers in photographs from the 1920's are rarely shown wearing Opera Gloves, those were indeed worn with formalwear throughout the decade.
The gloves Heather wears as part of her uniform in Spinnerette are long enough to be this (and have cuffs at the top!), even if she doesn't refer to them by that name.
June of KaBlam! wears them as part of her musical number in the episode "Won't Stick to Most Dental Work".
Code Lyoko: Odd's original Lyoko form have something like this, though ending in cat paws. From Season 4, in their new virtual avatars, Aelita, William and Yumi (on one side) have them as part of their costumes, though ending in Fingerless Gloves.
Miranda the Ecaflip in Wakfu. Evangelyne also wears a pair while disguised as a princess in episode 4 ("Miss Ugly") or in the Dream Sequence in episode 22 ("Rubilax").
In G.I. Joe: Sigma 6, the Baroness wears fingerless Opera Gloves that expose cybernetic fingers.
This site contains a huge archive of photographs and other images of every imaginable type of Opera Gloves wearer.
Because the delicate leathers and fine fabrics needed to make gloves were so hard to come by for so many years, gloves became closely associated with aristocracy and authority. Logically, therefore, the first women recorded as wearing gloves in the 16th Century were noblewomen (chief among them Queen Elizabeth I and Catherine DeMedici). One of the first women pictured wearing what we today would think of as ladies' long gloves was England's Queen Anne, at the beginning of the 18th Century.
As noted above, Opera Gloves of the mousquetaire style were popularized in Europe and America in the early 1870's by the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt, who reportedly wore long gloves to make her arms (which she considered to be too thin) look more attractive.
By the way, if you see a mousquetaire-style pair of Opera Gloves in a Regency film (such as one based on a Jane Austen novel), it's a mistake. Long gloves in that period were tailored to fit loosely on the arm, and were often held up by drawstrings or garterlike straps (this was portrayed correctly in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie). It was during the Victorian Era that it became fashionable to wear tight gloves — so tight, in fact, that ladies had to use talcum powder to be able to put them on.
The Empress Josephine is said to have worn long gloves for the same reason, and also did much to make the style popular in post-revolutionary France.
During the late 1940's and early 1950's, Queen Elizabeth II and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, were almost never seen not wearing Opera Gloves at any public event. To this day, the Queen is still known as a great white-glove wearer, though she doesn't really wear true Opera Gloves that much anymore.
Marilyn Monroe appears to have loved Opera Gloves: she wore them (and other styles of gloves) on many, many occasions during the glory days of her career.
Grace Kelly was famous for wearing white gloves (Opera Gloves as well as other styles of gloves) both onscreen and offscreen.
Audrey Hepburn is another renowned glove-wearer of the past century, though she's best known for wearing the so-called "coat-length" style (about 3/4 of the way up the forearm), rather than Opera Gloves as such.
Due to a childhood injury, Natalie Wood often wore clunky bracelets and Opera Gloves to disguise what she considered to be a disfigured wrist.
Vivien Leigh, being vain about her hands, often wore long gloves.
Another trope subversion: Myrna Loy, who was also vain about her attractive hands, rarely wore gloves offscreen (though she often wore them in her film roles).
Gypsy Rose Lee, probably the most famous burlesque performer of all, was famous for her practice, during her routines, of slowly removing her Opera Gloves and tossing them to audience members; if she didn't originate this particular shtick, she certainly popularized it and identified it indelibly with classic striptease artists.
The legendary 1950's pinup model Bettie Page frequently wore Opera Gloves (usually black leather) in her Fetish Fuel photo shoots.
Dita Von Teese, with her retro style of fashion, often wears Opera Gloves with both daytime and evening wear as well as for her professional engagements. Many of the other modern-day "Burlesque Revival" performers and so-called "retro-pinup models" also wear long gloves.
To this day, debutantes attending the famous Vienna (Austria) Opera Ball, as well as its imitators, are still required to wear all-white outfits, including white Opera Gloves.