This year’s unexpected must-have accessory is straight out of the Queen Elizabeth playbook

Opera gloves have been seen everywhere from the Met Gala to the Coronation. Here's who is leading the trend – and how to wear them

When Queen Elizabeth passed away last year, it seemed that the art of glove wearing might have gone with her. After all, she was one of the last public figures to make a point of donning white or black cotton gloves each time she made an appearance, still dedicated to the dress customs of a bygone era. As Genevieve James, who runs Cornelia James, the company founded by her mother which always supplied the late monarch’s gloves, once told me of 1940s and 50s dress codes, “If you were wearing a hat, then you had to have gloves too.”

And yet if there’s one accessory which keeps appearing everywhere this year, it’s elegantly elongated opera gloves, a more dramatic and unashamedly ladylike version of the late Queen’s styles – although there were plenty of occasions when she did an opera glove with aplomb. Glyndebourne only started last night but attendees there will be following rather than setting this trend.

Queen Elizabeth II was one of the original opera gloves trend-setters CREDIT: Getty/Hulton Royals Collection

Opera glove momentum has been building for some time, but this week it has reached a crescendo. On Thursday evening in Cannes, Phoebe Waller-Bridge became the latest A-lister to exude old-school glamour in a pair of black satin gloves which reached beyond her elbows, instantly setting her apart from the dozens of other stars in town. Beyoncé has kicked off her much-anticipated Renaissance tour in a series of astounding outfits, at least four of which include some variation on opera gloves, ranging from shimmery silver to sequined black. 

“We are super busy and have the resurgence of opera gloves to thank for this,” James tells me now from the East Sussex atelier where her gloves are still made. “I think that now we are all free from the shackles of the pandemic, we all want to live life, party until dawn and indulge in romantic escapism.”

Both James and fellow glovemaker Paula Rowan, whose creations have adorned the arms of Lady Gaga, Naomi Campbell and Madonna, also credit the costume drama craze for tempting us back into gloves. “We have shows like Bridgerton, The Crown and Downton Abbey which have impacted the popularity of evening gloves,’ says James. ‘The costumes are almost as much of a talking point as the characters. The gloves provide that added elegance with a touch of intrigue, I think that's what I love about them.”

Shows like Bridgerton have boosted the popularity of evening gloves CREDIT: AP / Netflix

The fascinating thing about this wave of opera glove adoration is that it appeals to women of all ages and styles. Last weekend, there was Rosie Huntington-Whiteley wearing a lingerie-esque Dolce & Gabbana look in Rome complete with sheer long gloves.

Then a mere 48 hours later, Emily Maitlis arrived at the TV Baftas in scarlet opera gloves which popped against her black and white Solace London gown looking like she could have been about to slip away to a State Banquet. Just down the red carpet, Billie Piper was posing away in a Richard Quinn catsuit with in-built opera gloves. At the Coronation, everyone from Katy Perry (in lilac Vivienne Westwood) to Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway (in Paula Rowan) opted for opera gloves as the perfect finishing touch for their outfits. 

At the Met Gala earlier this month, opera gloves reigned on women varying from J-Lo (who seemed to have more fabric on her arms than on the entire rest of her torso) to Billie Eilish in a sheer goth style and Cardi B in latex. This really couldn’t be further from the serene vision many of us have of Queen Elizabeth floating into a grand event decked out in tiara, Norman Hartnell ballgown and pristine white opera gloves. Or as James put it, “the one person who counts for me is the Queen. There’s this iconic vision of her in her black limousine with a white gloved hand at the window.” 

Gloves were seen on everyone from Cardi B and Billie Eilish at the Met Gala CREDIT: Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

It was Her late Majesty’s granddaughter-in-law, the Princess of Wales, who so cleverly bridged the vintage and modern perceptions of opera gloves at the Bafts back in February when she transformed the look of a white Alexander McQueen dress by adding a pair of opera gloves so long they almost grazed her shoulders – although the components of the ensemble were timeless, combined they were sharp and chic.

Opera gloves might be being peddled at exclusive A-list and royal events, but there’s no reason why you can’t incorporate a pair into your own wardrobe, especially if you have a special occasion on the horizon.

For a beautifully made pair of opera gloves, you need to search out a specialist supplier like Cornelia James, who as well as providing classic, simple styles for royalty has delectable costume drama-style bow-adorned and feather-strewn designs in her collection

Or Rowan whose offering spans plain but colourful leather to sculptural artworks for the arms: “I have always felt that elbow length gloves are a way of finishing an outfit. One of my mottos is ‘the last thing you put on is the first thing they notice’ and for me even growing up I would have been taught that to finish an outfit you would wear a pair of gloves,” she says. “I also think gloves are a great way to create a pop of colour if you’re wearing a plainer dress, it can really transform a look.”

Celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry have jumped on the glove bandwagon CREDIT: AFP via Getty Images, Reuters

One huge perk of opera gloves is how they can convey a sense of demure sophistication whilst also emphasising the toned arms which stars work so hard for. But, happily, if you have had other priorities aside from tricep dips, they can also serve to skim and sleeken. “Women of a certain age – myself included – like to cover their arms and a glove is a nice way of doing that,” confirms Rowan. 

My personal favourite reason to don opera gloves is the excellent excuse they give to do very little – it just doesn’t feel proper to allow someone in opera gloves to shove open a door or pick-up a tray, let alone do washing up (you couldn’t possibly pull on Marigolds over opera gloves, right?). 

“Opera gloves are transformative, they have enormous leverage,” adds James. “They turn any event into an occasion and a dress into a statement. Imagine Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, without the gloves, it's just another little black dress, with the gloves, it becomes iconic and emblematic of our age – always relevant, always contemporary.” 

A little bit Audrey Hepburn, a little bit Queen Elizabeth? I’m sold.