MJ Studies Today XLI

Abstract:  This month we look at Michael Jackson’s iconic single white glove and how its wearer made it an enduring pop culture artefact that is referenced in connection to Michael even in 2019. Kerry Hennigan examines Michael’s reasons for wearing the glove in the early years of his adult career, and how that changed as he matured into the King of Pop.

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.


Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XLI (15-05-2019).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 4 (2019). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xli/.

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Michael Jackson’s single white glove: an enduring pop culture icon – everything old is new again. By Kerry Hennigan

© Kerry Hennigan

Before he was the King of Pop, Michael Jackson was often referred to in the media as The Gloved One.  The reference is obvious.  His signature white glove, adorned with crystals which he originally applied himself, is an instantly recognised part of Jackson’s legacy.  It is an iconic artefact of pop culture history of the 20th-21stcenturies.

These crystal-encrusted gloves turn up in Hard Rock Café collections around the globe, in museums and private collections, having been given away by Michael, thrown into audiences, donated and subsequently auctioned for prices far outweighing their actual material value.

Initially, the glove was much more than a performance prop for Jackson.  In his Moonwalk biography he explains: “It’s so show business that one glove.  I love wearing it.” [1]

The impact of the glove became apparent following the success of Jackson’s Thriller album.  In 1984 an event was held to celebrate the record-breaking success of the album at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History.  Notably, the invitations to the Thriller celebration had been issued on single white gloves. [2]

This event closely followed the harrowing Pepsi commercial burns accident suffered by Jackson, when he was famously depicted in the media being carried to the waiting ambulance, gloved hand raised for his fans. [3]  When visiting patients in the Brotman Burns Center, one of them asked him about the glove’s significance.  “This way I am never offstage,” he is reputed to have replied. [4]

Jackson had been wearing the single glove for a long time, on some of the old tours back in the 70s and on the Jacksons’ Destiny tour subsequent to the release of his solo Off the Wall album.  But, following the success of Thriller and then the Motown 25 TV special, on which Michael premiered the moonwalk during his performance of Billie Jean (not a Motown song), the single white glove became synonymous with not only that performance, but with the song itself.

In his book King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson, Michael Bush writes, “It surprised Michael how the world stopped for that glove after his performance of ‘Billie Jean’ at the Motown 25 anniversary special.  He said he owed it all to the magic of television.” [5]

The glove was now an integral part of Michael’s stagecraft, and increasingly became used solely on the occasions when he performed Billie Jean or in rare photo sessions such as that shot by Jonathan Exley for Vibe magazine’s March 2002 edition. [6]

By the late 80s, with the release of his Bad album and launch of his first solo tour, Michael Jackson the man had grown beyond the need of his signature glove. Indeed, it’s questionable whether anyone lucky enough to see him off stage or behind the scenes from this time on would have even noticed if he was wearing it.  Michael himself was the main attraction; he no longer needed “show business” props, being himself the living embodiment of his art.

Fast forward now to Paris Fashion Week 2019, nearly ten years since the pop icon’s passing, and everything old is new again.  Vogue magazine notes “The late, great Michael Jackson is set to be honored this Thursday in Paris…Jackson will be honored by one very high-profile, very pop culture–obsessed designer at the Fall 2019 menswear shows. Back in December, Virgil Abloh announced that his second collection for Louis Vuitton* as artistic director of menswear would be inspired by the man who gave us Thriller, Smooth Criminal, and the moonwalk.”  Just as for 1984’s Thriller celebration, the invitation to Virgil Abloh’s fashion show was a single sparkly white glove. [7]

Long before they had the sad duty of dressing Jackson for his funeral service, Michael had told his costume duo Tompkins and Bush “If anything happens to me, please don’t put that glove on me.  That glove is only for Billie Jean.” [8]

Nevertheless, the single white glove retains its ageless appeal – simply because of the remarkable artist who wore it.

*Epilogue: Following the negative publicity generated in the media since the screening of the Leaving Neverland film on HBO, Channel 4 and other outlets, Louis Vuitton announced it was removing all the Michael Jackson items from the collection.  My referencing their Fall 2019 menswear show is to illustrate the long-lasting impact of Michael’s single white glove; it should not be taken as an endorsement of Louis Vuitton’s actions based on the film’s discredited allegations. – KH


[1] Jackson, Michael Moonwalk Arrow paperback edition 2010 p.217

[2] Gold, Todd Michael Jackson The Man in the Mirror Pan 1989 p.139

[3]  Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXXIV (14-10-2018).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 2 (2018). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxxiv/.

[4] Gold, 1989 p.138

[5] Bush, Michael The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson San Rafael 2012 p. 32

[6]  https://www.vibe.com/2012/08/v-vintage-michael-jackson-2001-interview

[7] Excerpt from a Statement from the Michael Jackson Estate issued January 2019 accessed https://www.facebook.com/groups/michaeljacksonsghosts/permalink/10156512501759900/

[8]  Bush 2012 p.195

Additional reading:

LA Times’ archived article on the Brotman Medical Center’s Michael Jackson Burns unit (closure of) https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1987-08-29-fi-1391-story.html

Artwork: Photo montage “behold the glove” by Kerry Hennigan using (left) photo by the author taken Dec 2016 at the Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, and (right) Michael Jackson photographed by Jonathan Exley in December 2001 for Vibe magazine’s March 2002 edition.  No copyright infringement is intended in this educational, not-for-profit exercise.