Credit: Frankie Fouganthin via Wikimedia Commons

Balaclavas: coveted and cosy, or criminal accessory?

By Gabriel Wheway

An investigation into the origins of the recent winter trend.

The balaclava, a snood-like piece of headwear most often seen on juvenile grime artists and ski slopes, has made a surprising return as the number one trend for this autumn/winter season. Over the course of October and November the secondhand clothing app Depop had a stark increase in searches for balaclavas – of more than 145%. Beyoncé​​ was witnessed sporting a balaclava-esque head covering in her Ivy Park collection earlier this year. Celine initially glamourised the trend, as models wore balaclavas on the catwalk for the brand’s collection. Now, is there more to this newly fashionable headpiece than staying warm? 

The balaclava has initiated an enlightening fashion statement, presenting facial coverings as an interesting hybrid between “safety wear” and fashion. Reading the trend in a different light, perhaps this headwear serves as a comment on the post-Covid-19 winter world, where we are still required to be covered up, anonymised and even defensive in our fashion choices. The item has continually been associated with battle and defence, originally worn by British soldiers in the Crimean war, designed to protect from the bitter weather of what is now modern-day Ukraine. 

And it has gone on to form an association with special forces regiments such as the elite military division the SAS. The influence military-wear maintains on fashion is undeniable and Beyoncé, through her Ivy Park collection, reflects this in her manifestation of the profoundly masculine alter-ego known as King B. This re-popularisation of the item has reinforced the rise of “war-core”, a contemporary development of the 90s fashion trend that sports riot shields, military jackets, and tactical vests to create a utilitarian fashion that focuses on layering and subtle colourings. 

“This re-popularisation of the item has reinforced the rise of ‘war-core’…”

While many regard the balaclava as an edified fashion statement, the garment has also been associated with anarchy. Several brands, including Nike, have in the past been criticised for playing on the stereotypes of black youths and encouraging gang culture. Nike withdrew the item in 2018, despite their argument that it was a training item designed for cold-weather sports and recreational use. They went on to state: “We are in no way condoning or encouraging the serious issue of criminal and gang culture.” This racial and boisterous subtext is often associated with balaclavas, and many designers have been accused of exploiting it…

While they seem to lack a certain practicality – without appearing as a criminal-esque accessory – the likes of Celine, Raf Simons and Stone Island’s collaboration with streetwear brand Supreme have made them both practical and covetable. While these brand’s price points start at around £150, this vintage revival of unique headwear has appeared on Depop, eBay, and other vintage fashion outlets, making them readily available to all. Kim Kardashian headlined a balaclava as an almost fetishized piece of facewear at the Met Gala, whilst Raf Simons’ revival and persistent faith in the balaclava has seen it feature in his collections for over 20 years. Many do look to the Kardashians as fashion gurus, however the original and most appreciated outfits featuring the balaclava are seen on the likes of Skepta in his music videos, and even sat by a catwalk at a high-end fashion show. 

It may seem a little menacing at times, yet the normalisation of the balaclava in everyday wear is only a positive for the development of headwear in the fashion industry. Though many choose to sport a subtle black piece, brands are continually experimenting with a plethora of styles and colours, making it an easy statement for an outfit. Above all, it’s a garment that reinforces an understated and disconnected persona, manifesting privacy in the cold Covid-19 months.


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