Beauty was sometimes a strange process in the 1700 and 1800s. Some women went so far as to cover their faces with lard or apply masks “plastered … with a perfumed pomade to preserve the complexion.” There was also a mask of sliced veal (steeped in milk) that was applied to the face, and, of course, the ever popular milk bath that fair beauties soaked in, while those who had long since seen the bloom of youth bathed in astringents, such as wine. But, perhaps, one of the strangest beauty fashions was a practice that first began in the 1600s and was adapted by both sexes. It was chicken-skin gloves, sometimes called Limerick gloves.
Chicken-skin gloves did something for the hands that apparently no other glove could do. They whitened the skin and made it ultra smooth and delicate. The gloves were first manufactured in Limerick, Ireland, but they were also produced at Waterford and Dublin. Chicken skin was at one point stretched across fans and decoratively painted, and, although the gloves were called “chicken-skin gloves,” it seems unclear if the gloves were ever made from chicken skin, and, if they were, it did not last long.
Most records and documentation seems to indicate chicken-skin gloves were not even made from a bird but rather from the skins of unborn calves. Either the calf’s mother died, at which point the skins were “technically known as ‘morts'” or cows about to give birth, known as parturient cows, were slaughtered and the skins retrieved, which were then known as “slinks.” Both morts and slinks, collectively known as “Limericks,” were claimed to be “delicately thin.”
The Limerick gloves were fashionable and worn in the day time by the early 19th century. Wearers admired them because of their amazing craftsmanship and high quality. They were usually pale yellow, fine textured gloves that “could be enclosed in a walnut shell, and were thus often shown in shop windows [encased in them].”
Besides chicken-skin gloves and Limericks, there were supposedly other unusual materials used to create gloves throughout the world. For instance, there were claims of American goat and lamb skin gloves and Australian “dogskin” gloves made from sheep. There were also supposedly Russian gloves made from colt skins. One of the most interesting claims was that rat skin gloves were produced in Paris. In fact, there were several exciting descriptions published about rat hunts in Paris sewers. “Sometimes the [rat] skin [was] said to be … needed for the little thumb-gusset, sometimes for the entire thumb, and sometimes it is used wholesale,” but such claims were creative fiction as no rat skin gloves were ever produced.
Although rat skin gloves may have been fiction, writers regularly wrote and published odes to chicken-skin gloves, and one of these odes follows:
“Come, but don’t forget the gloves,
Venus caught young Cupid picking
From the tender breast of chicken;
Little chicken worthier far
Than the birds of Juno’s car,
Soft as Cytherea’s dove,
Let they skin my skin improve;
Thou by night shalt grace my arm
And by day shall teach to charm.”
- Beck, S. William, Gloves, Their Annals and Associations, 1883
- Hill, Georgiana, A History of English Dress from the Saxon Period to the Present Day, Vol. 2, 1893
- Wilde, Oscar, The Woman’s World, 1889