A couple of years ago, one of my former colleagues, the writer Larry Edsall, wrote about driving gloves. “Okay, I admit it,” he wrote. “I might be committing an act of sacrilege here, but I don’t understand driving gloves… I don’t understand why some people who own sports cars wear special gloves when they drive their cars. Is it for show, or does it really make them better drivers?”
I had to laugh, because at that time I did a quick count and found nine pairs of driving gloves tucked into the gloveboxes and door panels of my various cars, plus the nooks and crannies of the garage. I may have missed some.
So yes, I do like me some driving gloves, even if they make me feel like un poseur total, like somebody who would drop French phrases into English sentences. But in my case, I wear driving gloves (when I can find them) for several good reasons. (Not that I am ruling out the vain hope of lookin’ good; even the late great Stirling Moss once admitted that he forced himself to adopt an arms-out driving style because it looked good in the pictures.)
First of all, there was (once) the Z8, with its leather-covered banjo steering wheel. No, I did not need grippy gloves to maintain control; that was the reason I wore gloves in my rally-drivin’ years. In the Z8, I wore gloves because I once looked up the price of a Z8 steering wheel, and I have known since I was fourteen that your hands secrete certain chemicals in your sweat that will eventually rot the leather of a steering wheel. (That’s why you always want to anoint your guns with Hoppe’s gun oil after handling them. I learned this from Curly Busan, a gunsmith who could handle blued steel with impunity because after an incident involving a hand grenade during World War II, his hands no longer secreted anything—sweat, salts, acids, or otherwise.)
As for making us better drivers, it is obvious that gloves provide a more secure grip. This was especially true in the days when sports cars often came with wood-rimmed steering wheels, varnished to a high gloss. Other ways to improve grip in the ancient times included wrapping the wheel with cotton or leather cording, and I have also seen wheels swathed in foam padding; my four-door E30 rally car, the Red Rat, had a suede steering wheel—not Alcantara, which would erode in a single weekend—which I found ideal, except that the suede would wear smooth in time, so I carried a piece of Scotchbrite abrasive in the door pocket so that I could roughen the wheel between rally stages.
Of course, I no longer have to protect the leather wheel of a Z8, and my rally-drivin’ days are behind me, but I continue to wear driving gloves for reasons exemplified by the two remaining cars in the dwindling fleet. First there is the Z4 M roadster; its leather wheel would not be all that costly to replace, and I do not spend as many hours driving it as I did the Z8, so that’s not the problem; it’s that BMW built the Z4 M roadster wheel such that it is fat, firm, and smooth—smooth to the point of being hard and shiny. It’s not so much that my sweaty palms would rot the steering wheel, but that they would lubricate the damn thing. My skinny BMW driving gloves with the tiny roundel on the snap were ideal, because the sweat would soon soak through and turn them into a high-grip surface.
The Mini Cooper SE also has a leatherish wheel, but there’s something weird about it—or maybe it’s something weird about me. If I drive the car with my bare hands, after a while the wheel feels sticky, as if I had rubbed it with maple syrup. So then I feel compelled to wash the syrup off my hands, but they aren’t really sticky once I’m out of the car. (Yes, I know that I should rejoice in the potential grip of a syrupy steering wheel, but eeew.) So I prefer to wear my nifty-keen BMW driving gloves in that car, too.
But I can’t find them.
However, this is the Christmas season, so I convinced myself that I should give myself a present—note that I did not say gift myself, a corruption of a noun into a verb that I consider unforgivable—namely another pair of BMW driving gloves. So I went on the BMW Accessories website and scrolled until my fingers were weary, but found no solace. (I assure you that I do not intend to ever buy BMW golfing gloves.) “Well, huh,” I muttered—that’s become my mantra lately, along with What Is Wrong With These People?—but not to worry: The last time I bought a pair of BMW driving gloves, I found them on Amazon.
Presuming that driving gloves must be on others’ wish lists as well as mine, I decided to look at current market offerings. After all, this is the giving season, and I have been known to give people stuff now and then. But if not a pair of nifty BMW driving gloves, then what could take their place? I mean, it doesn’t take long to discover that there are many, many driving gloves competing for your gift-giving budget.
I knew that Larry Edsall was not likely to have any recommendations, but he was right about one thing: Apparently most reviewers are more sports-car fashionistas than practical drivers. And Hollywood trend-setters can certainly affect our buying habits; remember Drive, in which Ryan Gosling perfected the art of dopey existential gloom? His getaway-driver character wears driving gloves in an embarrassing product-placement, left-hand-at-twelve-o’clock driving position. (Okay, whoever’s driving in the obligatory chase scenes does have both hands on the wheel, but then you can’t see the gloves.)
The maker of those gloves is still thrilled about the movie: “Gaspar Gloves created the original gloves for the movie Drive in 2011,” reads their website. “These are exact replicas of what Ryan Gosling wore in the cult classic. Made from genuine Italian Hair Sheep leather by specially trained craftsmen.”
Italian Hair Sheep? Never mind the extraneous capitalization. I had never heard of hair sheep, but now that I know that there is such an animal, I think that I would prefer gloves made from Barbados Blackbelly hair sheep, because I like the sound of that animal:
“Bitchin’ gloves, dude! What’re they made of?”
“Barbados Blackbelly,” he replied, nonchalantly snapping the backstraps.
It turns out that there are entire websites devoted to helping you become a manlier man, or a posier poseur. Somehow I do not think that the people who write for these sites are really hard-core sports-car drivers, but they do give it some astounding creative effort. Beau Hayhoe, writing for The Manual, opens with You’ve likely got your eye on a road trip soon, right? And how better to get from Point A to Point B than with the best men’s style essentials and accessories aplenty? Before you hit the road, you’ve got a checklist to go through, and that checklist should likely start with a critical accessory: the best leather driving gloves for men. The best driving gloves are a crucial component to ensure your road trip flows smoothly.
Um… well, yes, I do have a checklist for road trips—several of them, actually, each aimed at a different set of essentials. For Arctic adventures, the list includes a can of dog food: In an emergency, you want survival rations, but you have to make sure that you wouldn’t eat them unless the situation was appropriately dire; hey, if I just tossed a can of Nalley’s hot chili in the trunk, I’d likely eat it cold the first time I grew a bit peckish.
However, I am not sure that I consider driving gloves to be a critical accessory, or even a crucial component ensuring smooth road-trip flow. And if they’re so important, why would Hayhoe misspell the name of glovemaker Agnelle?
About Ferrari gloves, Hayhoe waxes elegant: Turn towards Ferrari to get the right gloves to power a speedy road trip, and rest easy knowing that the design functionality and focus is every bit as nuanced and refined as a Ferrari automobile. Refined? Nuanced? They’re gloves, Beau! And take that S off the end of toward!
Anyway, Hayhoe does not seem fazed by a price of $240 for a pair of gloves, but I could not find them by following the link to the Ferrari website. (Gaspar will let you channel your inner Gosling for a mere $215, but that’s still above my limit of fifty bucks per hand.)
The Manual also recommends another Italian glovemaker, Forzieri: Italian leather meets classic driving-glove details in these handsome, utility-minded black leather driving gloves, the kind to wear on road trips near and far. As opposed to road trips that are neither near nor far? Somehow I can’t think of any.
As long as the people on your list deserve at least a hundred bucks on each paw, you might consider Engelmüller gloves. Not only do they have a variety of styles, but they have now coded each style with the initials of famous racing drivers, along with a significant year in that driver’s career. You might like the €205 JC63 design, for example, celebrating 1963 World Champion Jim Clark, or the JMF57 design at €295. Most agree that the 1957 Nürburgring race was Juan Manuel Fangio’s finest.
I do like both of these gloves myself, but not enough to raid the rent money; fortunately, the Engelmüller people have not yet come up with an SM55 model, because I would be sorely tempted to buy gloves that honored Stirling Moss’ incredible Mille Miglia victory.
The only other high-priced gloves that tempt me are by Handschuhe, the Austrian-Hungarian firm headed by Thomas Reimer. This is the only source I have found for suede gloves with the suede on the outside, where it belongs. The $325 price leaves me admiring from afar, but these are the gloves I would buy if I were rolling in dough.
You’ll notice that most of the high-end gloves are made of lambskin or deerskin, although your choice expands with your wallet. Opinari uses peccary skin, which sounds ever so much more swank than pigskin, while Mazzoleni has offerings in everything from deerskin (€250) to ostrich (€600) to crocodile (€900).
And as long as we’re going for the glitz, why not a pair of Seymoure gloves adorned with Swarovskiesque crystals for $528? Too, too tacky? How about tasteful pearls for a mere $485?
Getting back to Planet Earth, I may opt for a pair of Dents. The British glovemaker claims that these hair-sheep gloves will let me work the touchscreen in the Mini, and at $80 I am still within my budget, unless the shipping kills me.
Other commonly known brands available from Amazon include Pratt and Hart, Riparo, and Dooway; if you mislay gloves as often as I do, these may be a useful option, some as low as thirty bucks a pair. Certainly those are the gloves you’ll reach for when you’re changing a tire.
I have not been all that lucky with cheap gloves from what I suspect are sweatshops; one pair of lovely blue gloves imparted their color to the driver’s skin within a hundred miles, which is fine if you want to go to a Halloween party as a Na’vi dream-walker. Other gloves tended to wither and harden with age; after all, genuine leather can be anything from aardvark to yak. So I try to stick with reputable glovemakers, who tend to make their products fit like—well, you know.
If you want to plunge into this rabbit hole, consider gloves from Hesta, Harssidanzar (lambskin), Roadr, Fratelli Orsini, Heritage—hey, who wouldn’t look snazzy in old-school string-back driving gloves?!
Don’t forget Café Leather, Larusmiani, Primo Luxe (Amalfi), and Alpa, an interesting old-school Hungarian glovemaking firm.
I think I’ll ask them if they make anything in Barbados Blackbelly.—Satch Carlson,