One day, I took a taxi-cab home from work. I usually bike but it was pouring and with no one else to hitch a ride with, I had no choice. As I got in, I noticed that my driver was wearing a pair of driving gloves.
‘Well, that’s funny!’I thought to myself, “who wears driving gloves in 2022?”
I had always associated driving gloves with a bygone era and thought a driver wearing driving gloves today is old-fashioned and backward.
“Old-fashioned and backward?!” exclaimed the taxi driver, irately.
Ooops, I must have said that last bit out loud. The driver turned to glare at me.
Then, with a forgiving smile on his face, he settled back and so started a long speech about the design features and types of driving gloves, their history, specific examples of the different types, and frequently asked questions about them.
As awkward as the lecture had begun, by the time, Glover, the taxi driver, dropped me off at home, I must admit, I had learned a lot about the types of driving gloves in existence. Below I share some of my newfound knowledge about them.
A Brief History
Driving gloves first appeared in the 1890s. Cars had just made their debut and were quite unsophisticated compared to now.
Aside from the cars being convertibles and having no power steering, the steering wheels themselves were made of either wood or metal. In cars with wooden steering wheels, driving gloves protected drivers’ hands from splinters.
Moreover, cars had no heating. Consequently, driving gloves served the function of keeping the driver’s hands warm as well as giving them better grip control on the driving wheel. These gloves are now known as Old school Gauntlet Driving gloves.
They were full-fingered thick leather gloves, lined with wool, fur,lamb-skin, and reached up over an overcoat. Given their thickness, they made movement difficult. Therefore, you had to put strength into steering.
Later, as cars evolved, having big thick gloves was no longer necessary. So, in the 1930s, Gauntlet driving gloves underwent a makeover. Heating was available in cars, so gloves became tighter, thinner, and shorter. They also had holes to make them breathable.
Compared to the Gauntlet gloves, these short gloves had more sensitivity. Steering wheels were still slippery, so the heightened sensitivity of short gloves allowed you to maneuver your car without requiring a very strong grip.
At this point, driving gloves were also becoming more of a status symbol. Driving gloves, especially light-colored ones, showed that you had staff to wash them for you.
Once the 1960s arrived, car manufacturers finally made steering wheels with a non-slip surface. As a result, driving gloves were not needed anymore. However, this did not stop them from being stylish accessories.
Even the celebrated “King of Cool”, actor Steve McQueen wore them, the suave James Bond wore them too. So, driving gloves were kept popular until the 1980s when the heating in cars became so developed wearing gloves any type of driving gloves was no longer required.
Today, although driving gloves have lost some of their popularity, you will still find them in pop culture and occasionally in the hands of a regular driver, like my taxi-driver pal, Glover, who wears them for grip and protection.
While maximum tactility is what most driving gloves are designed with in mind, for any glove to be marked as a driver’s glove, as all gloves generally improve grip on a car’s steering wheel.
Despite this, genuine driving gloves are identifiable in that they are designed to offer a tactile advantage to drivers handling a car.
As such, driving gloves are usually characterized by
- Soft, thin leather.
- Open knuckles and back for maximum flexibility and air circulation.
- Holes punched in the fingers and palms for ventilation,
- Short cuffs for unrestricted movement.
- A stud fastener closure in the back for a proper and comfortable fit around the wrists.
Such design features or their absence, have led to FIVE main types of driving gloves -lined, unlined, full-fingered, fingerless and arguably racing driving gloves. All come in a variety of styles and sizes.
Styles and Types of Driving Gloves
1. Lined Driving Gloves
As the name suggests, Lined driving gloves are stuffed with either fur, wool, or lambskin. Such driving gloves are insulated and provide insulation for your hands as you drive during cold weather. However, they do so at the expense of steering wheel sensitivity.
An example of Lined driving gloves is the ancestor of all driving gloves, Gauntlets, long gloves that were conical from the wrist. Typically, they are lined with either wool, fur, lambskin, or cashmere.
What they have in warmth they lack in mobility, requiring the driver to have a strong grip.
2. Cold-Weather Driving Gloves
Another example of Lined Driving Gloves is cold-weather driving gloves. These are another variation of short gloves. Instead of just genuine leather material, cold-weather gloves are lined with wool or cashmere.
Moreover, they have no holes to insulate warmth but still give superior grip. They come in a variety of different colors. Just look at the ELMA Winter Leather Gloves for Men.
3. Unlined Driving Gloves
These types of driving gloves are as thin as possible to allow for increased sensitivity while wearing them. This is because they have external as opposed to internal seams. This makes them seamless inside.
Accordingly, they do not interfere with the sensitivity of the driver’s hands. As such, touch on the steering wheel is responsive to what’s communicated by the wheels as they make contact with the road.
Examples of these more sensitive, unlined driving short-type classic gloves emerged in the 1960s and 70s.
Made of lightweight leather and tight fitting, often with perforations to help keep the hands cool and with rows of stitching on the palm to help grip on the wheel, these successors to gauntlets were, between 1964 and 1974, exemplified by the Jack Brabham Driving Gloves.
Short and not so thick, these driving gloves are what often come to mind when you think of driving gloves. They are unlined full-fingered leather gloves with perforations to keep them cool.
They offer both grip and mobility. An example would be the GSG Men Driving Leather Gloves as shown below.
4. Fingerless Driving Gloves
These driving gloves are a fingerless variation of short gloves. Associated with motorcycle driving, fingerless gloves are among the most popular type of driving gloves.
Typically, made of leather they do not completely cover your fingers as you drive, thus increasing sensitivity and offering you more skillful control of your car.
Some of the best fingerless gloves currently on the market are the Riparo Men’s Leather Fingerless Half-Finger Driving Motorcycle Gloves.
5. Full-fingered Driving Gloves
Found mainly as a combination of leather and cashmere, full-fingered driving gloves are distinct. They often feature a silver button clasp and circular stitching surrounding the knuckle to distinguish these Italian-made gloves’ beautiful design.
Examples of full-fingered driving gloves are the Nimsqury Leather Full-Finger Driving gloves.
6. Traditional Driving Gloves
Styled between cold weather driving gloves and fingerless driving gloves, traditional driving gloves, these gloves are made from genuine leather.
They do not have any kind of lining and are best suited to warm climates. They are full-fingered and at times feature perforated leather and knuckle holes.
7. Racing gloves
Racing gloves are as close as you can get to the old gauntlets. They are long and thick, however, while most driving gloves are all about grip, racing gloves also protect the driver from heat and fire.
For this reason, instead of leather, racing gloves are made of Nomex which is a flame-resistant material. The color of a pair of racing gloves is also unique in that it must contrast with the color of the car so that the driver is noticeable when signaling for help.
As Glover drove me home, I became fascinated by the types of gloves out there, so much so that I found myself asking him some questions.
Should I wear driving gloves?
The infamous taxi driver made quite the case for driving gloves, stating the following benefits:
a. Better grip and control
There are many situations during which you might lose control of your steering wheel. Driving on a road riddled with potholes and gravel or in the rain on slippery roads needs you to have full control of your vehicle.
Driving gloves give you the grip to keep your hands on the wheel and steer into a skid in an emergency.
b. Maintain your car’s interior
Did you know that your hands have a superpower? Yep, just by touching the interior of your car, you make them deteriorate. Oil and sweat from your hands add more wear and tear to your steering wheel.
This is especially true for vintage cars as they have already taken some damage. Wearing driving gloves will preserve and protect your steering wheel f.
c. Combat hand fatigue
Driving for long hours can tire your hands out. The leather surface on driving gloves minimizes vibrations thus reducing hand fatigue. Driving gloves also cushion the impact of the steering wheel.
d. Comfort in extreme weather
In the cold, cold weather, driving gloves offer warmth without compromising on control.
During sweltering temperatures, short gloves, or fingerless gloves keep your hands at a comfortable temperature. Consequently, they prevent sweat from slickening your steering wheel and lessening your hold.
e. Avoid burning your hands
After leaving your car in the sun for a while, you’ll find that your steering wheel is quite hot. Driving gloves prevent your hands from burning on a hot steering wheel. Additionally, they eliminate the friction between your hands and the wheel, thus preventing blisters.
f. Hype up your awesomeness
Since short gloves came onto the scene in the 30s, driving gloves have always been fashionable. And you can’t say that they don’t add a little cool edginess to the person wearing them. Otherwise, why would stylists make actors wear them?
Take for instance the blockbuster “Drive”. In it, Driver played by Ryan Gosling, puts on short gloves multiple times in the film. The gloves give him a distinct character and emphasize his masculinity.
Driving gloves have the same effect on women. In “Gossip Girl”, gloves are worn by Blair Waldorf, played by Leighton Meester.As the Queen B of the Upper East Side, wearing driving gloves further affirms her powerful personality.
Therefore, man or woman, driving gloves serve to heighten your awesomeness.
Why do driving gloves have knuckle holes?
Two words: flexibility and ventilation. Although the leather used to make driving gloves is soft, any amount of clothing can be somewhat restrictive.
Also, while leather is a breathable material, it does not hurt to have more breathability in high temperatures. Thus, driving gloves have knuckle holes and other perforations.
How do you break in new driving gloves?
The obvious answer would be that you can just wear them. However, this may take some time. If you want to speed up the process, there are several ways to do that. Firstly, you can treat them with a leather conditioner.
This has the added benefit of preserving your gloves. Secondly, you can apply leather oil or wax. Both will moisten the leather and add weather-resistant properties, but leather oil may darken the leather and temporarily give it a smell.
Applying rubbing alcohol is yet another way to break-in your driving gloves. You can also treat them with silicone. This treatment is ideal for making the gloves more water-resistant.
Are driving gloves supposed to be tight?
The tightness of driving gloves depends on the style. If you are getting short gloves, then you want a snug fit that does not restrict blood circulation and allows ¼ of an inch of space between the edge of the finger and the tip of the glove when your hands are relaxed.
Cold weather gloves are loose. They have approximately ½ inch to 1 inch of space to fit over glove liners used for insulating the hand during extremely cold temperatures.