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How Do You Balaclava? The Head Covering Trend Explained

Fashion Beauty Runway - How Do You Balaclava? The Head Covering Trend Explained 1
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Let’s face it. We’ve all grown accustomed to wearing head and face coverings in the last three years. But the (almost) full head covering that is not associated with any religion started showing up in 2018 when Demna Gvasalia, currently the creative director of Balenciaga, began sending down the runway models wearing balaclavas. 

Demna was born in Georgia (a former Soviet republic) and grew up in the late ’80s and early ‘90s, at a time when there were still many former USSR warfare elements present in his country. And, well, the balaclava is enmeshed in the history of the region. 

Early Beginnings

The name actually comes from the Ukrainian port town of Balaclava, when the full-face covering item was first worn by British soldiers fighting the Crimean War to keep warm in frigid conditions, in the mid 1800s. Since then, militias, criminals, and bank robbers have adopted the accessory, en masse, to avoid being caught. Even in a pre-AI world, face recognition was still a common method of detection.

At the beginning of 2020, trend forecasting agency WGSN noted an upsurge in sales for silk headscarves and bandanas, led in part by an earlier renaissance of silk scarves from luxury heritage brands. When the pandemic hit, chic people everywhere started wearing their Hermes and Gucci scarves to cover their faces, before medical-grade masks took over.

Fashion Beauty Runway - How Do You Balaclava? The Head Covering Trend Explained 3

Gaining Traction 

In 2021, shopping platform Lyst noted that searches for fashion knitted hoods, babushkas and balaclavas jumped 344 percent. Streetwear also started embracing headwear. On StockX, a premium bidding platform mainly devoted to sneakers and collectible sports gear, trades of balaclavas increased more than fivefold in the fourth quarter of 2021, in part due to a Supreme collab. According to StockX economist Jesse Einhorn, balaclavas are “among the more hype apparel items” on the trading website. 

Oh, and let’s not forget celebrities piling on head coverings created by upscale fashion brands such as Miu Miu, Jacquemus and the aforementioned Balenciaga.

Trickling down on the price scale, very affordable brands like fast fashion Shein and Canadian-based retailer Simons have followed suit, bringing the drama of the balaclava and endless headgear options to style enthusiasts everywhere. In December 2022, even Skims launched a (very) limited edition two-piece collection of winter underwear called First Layers, featuring a top with an attached balaclava.

Fashion Beauty Runway - How Do You Balaclava? The Head Covering Trend Explained 2

Cultish but Cute 

Artisanal knitwear designers have also been busy crafting unique and ultra-personalized headgear, which has led to them being discovered on Instagram with the popularity of balaclavas exploding. One of these is Canadian artist Alexandria Masse, based in Nova Scotia, who creates stunning collectible balaclavas, some of which are based on cute furry animals — light years away from the army life original balaclava.  

With all the backlash against government-enforced mask mandates, wouldn’t it be counterintuitive to continue wearing form-fitting accessories on our faces? Not really, since we had already grown accustomed (and comfortable) donning face coverings. 

According to GQ fashion critic Rachel Tashjian, people are also feeling more experimental when it comes to their clothing. Maybe that’s also the reason we’ve seen so many extreme fashion trends in 2022, like ginormous jeans, for example. Perhaps in a pre-pandemic world, balaclavas would have very much remained a niche item. 

But, in hindsight, everything is 20/20, right? 

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