Abstract: Xavier Jouvin: Fashioning the Glove, Fashioning the Female Hand

Ariel Beaujot

Abstract

While doing his rounds in Grenoble, France, a young medical student, Xavier Jouvin, began the curious task of measuring the dimensions of his patients' hands. After determining that hands could be classified into 320 different sizes, in 1834 Jouvin patented a series of tempered steel blades in the shape of each possible hand. In nineteenth-century Europe gloves were used as a tool to maintain the perfectly shaped, tiny, white hand coveted by the middle-class woman. In this period hands were thought to be a physical manifestation of a woman's class and racial status; the size, shape, and color of women's hands were observed as an indication of her standing as laboring or leisured and white native or colonial other. By beginning with the apparently simple invention of a glove punch we are able to observe how an object can affect gender and class in profound ways.