What are Gauntlets?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Gauntlets are a type of glove which usually runs from the forearm to the fingertips. A number of gloves are actually called gauntlets, although the context is usually clear from the usage. In most cases, a pair of gauntlets is designed to serve a protective function, ensuring that the hands of the wearer are not damaged by activities which range from sport fencing to butchering. Specialized gauntlets for a wide range of needs are sold by specialty purveyors who focus on outfitting specific professions and hobbies. Some fashion designers also use gauntlets in their designs, although these gloves serve a more ornamental function.

Kevlar® fabric, which is used to make athletic gauntlets.
Kevlar® fabric, which is used to make athletic gauntlets.

In the original sense, a gauntlet was a glove worn with plate or chain mail. These gauntlets were usually lined with leather to make them more comfortable, and covered in metal to shield the forearm, wrist, and hand from harsh blows. Over time, militaries evolved so that chain mail was no longer necessary, but some form of sturdy protective glove has always been required, as hands are extremely delicate and susceptible to damage in combat.

A gauntlet might be used by a biologist to handle falcons.
A gauntlet might be used by a biologist to handle falcons.

The sense of a gauntlet as a heavy, protective glove has been carried over into other fields as well. Scientists routinely use gauntlets as part of space suits and laboratory equipment to protect their hands, while biologists utilize them to handle animals ranging from falcons to feral cats. Gauntlets are also worn by butchers and other professionals in rough industry to ensure that they are not injured. They may also provide protection from cold weather, especially when lined with fleece or insulating synthetic fibers.

Many athletes also wear gauntlets as part of the uniform for their sports. In heavy combat-based sports, Kevlar® or leather gauntlets may be worn to provide sturdy protection without the weight and inflexibility of metal. Kendo and fencing both require gauntlets for practice and tournament wear, reflecting the military origin of these sports, as well as concern about the hands of the athletes.

In the sense of “throw down the gauntlet,” a gauntlet is also a glove. Traditionally, slapping someone with a glove is considered a challenge to combat, as is throwing a gauntlet in front of someone. In this usage, the word “gauntlet” is taken from the Old French gantelet, which is a diminutive form of glove. “Running the gauntlet” is not actually related to gloves; it is derived from gatlopp, a Swedish word which refers to running through a course.

Gauntlets are used during the sport of falconry.
Gauntlets are used during the sport of falconry.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


One Halloween, I went to a costume party as a knight. Chain mail gauntlets were part of my costume, and boy, were they heavy! I don’t see how knights wore them when fighting. I could barely lift my arms to take a sip of punch!

I suppose a requirement of being a knight was strength, and they probably trained with gauntlets on their arms. I admire them for that after spending four hours wearing them while dancing.

At one point, I threw down one of my gauntlets so I could have a break. A guy dressed as a peasant asked if I wanted to fight. It took me a second to figure out what he meant, but luckily, he was joking.


@StarJo - What a creative use of gauntlets! I am glad that works for you. I work at a veterinary clinic, and you would not believe how many people have requested that we remove their puppies’ teeth! Of course, we don’t do it, but I will have to tell the next person who asks about your gauntlet idea.

We wear gauntlets at the clinic sometimes, but it’s usually when we have to bathe cats! They attack our arms and hang on tight with claws and teeth, so protection is a necessity.

Our gauntlets are made of layers of thick canvas, and a fleece interior provides extra cushioning and another obstacle for cats seeking to break the skin. I would not attempt to handle a wet cat without a pair!


My cousin is a ballroom dance instructor, and she wears ornamental gauntlets as part of her costume for dance showcases. The clients are also expected to wear them during these events.

The gauntlets always match the dresses. She has a red satin dress with gauntlets, and it reminds me of glamor from long ago.

Even before starting her career, she had a thing for gauntlets. I remember that she wore some to the prom. They were made of light blue lace to complement her gown.

Ornamental gauntlets make me think of royalty and the wealthy, though my cousin is neither. I suppose it’s part of her fantasy. Cinderella is always depicted as wearing gauntlets to the ball, and my cousin has dreams of finding her prince, also.


My husband and I bought two pairs of gauntlets made for butchers. We didn’t wear them while cutting meat, though. We needed them for protection from our four-month-old puppy’s sharp teeth.

No matter how much we scolded our stomped our feet in disapproval, there seemed to be no breaking him from chewing on our bodies. His teeth were long enough and sharp enough to cause significant pain, and he left a few bruises and scrapes on my forearms.

We figured that if gauntlets could protect a butcher from a sharp knife, surely they could protect us from a puppy. When we wear them, we can play with him and toss him around without fear. We know that he will one day grow out of this painful phase, but now we are able to enjoy playing with him in the meantime.


@lonelygod - You can try googling for quality shops in your area, or by maybe asking around if there are any fencing clubs in your area.

If you want more traditional fencing gauntlets you can buy fencing gloves made out of heavy leather from most online fencing supply stores. These gloves are much cheaper than the gauntlets made to look more realistic, but I think they lack the fun of really dressing up to fence. But, to each their own as they say.


I just joined a fencing club and need to buy a pair of gauntlets gloves to protect my hands during our training sessions. Does anyone know where you would buy these kinds of gloves?

All I have been able to find are costume gauntlets and a few pairs that are clearly meant to be just fashionable.

Also, is there is anything in particular I should look for when choosing gauntlets for sport?

I am not familiar with anyone who has ever worn this sort of glove, so I am not sure if one brand would be better than another brand.

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