Vox contributor Estelle Caswell explains the simple and complicated reasons cartoon characters wear gloves. The simplest explanation is that gloves are easier to animate, but for a more complex answer Caswell turns to the traditions of vaudeville and minstrel shows.
The Opry House reveals how inextricably linked vaudeville performance and blackface minstrelsy were to early animation. Nicholas Sammond writes in his book Birth of an Industry that early animators often performed at these shows. They also studied the performances of many of the vaudeville artists and translated those characters studies to paper when they were inventing their own cartoons.