The newest Gen Z accessory on the block: Balaclavas. This mystifying knitwear has recently made its rounds on several catwalks such as Loewe, Wooyoungmi, Y/Project, Proenza Schouler and Christian Cowan.
Now, it is taking TikTok by storm. Fashion trend hoppers love the dystopian-esque aesthetic so much that they are making tutorials on how to convert an ordinary scarf into a makeshift balaclava.
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Before the balaclava became hip and edgy in the fashion scene, the headgear’s origins date back more than a century ago in the 1850s. Serving a practical purpose, British women knitted the unique mask for the soldiers who were shipped out during winter to participate in the Crimean War.
The warming mask that covered most of the face took its name from the settlement that the troops were stationed at — the Town of Balaclava.
Fast forward to the 21st century, the balaclava continues to serve the military and law enforcement across the world, but it also has a purpose in the sporting community. Many winter sportsmen and women use balaclavas for warmth and to protect themselves from wind chill as they slide down the snowy slopes.
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As technology advanced, sport balaclavas and their variants such as ski masks have evolved – the material has to be moisture-wicking to prevent frostbite. Not to mention, it has to fit snuggly below helmets and goggles for comfort and to prevent any hindrance to the athletes’ performance.
A balaclava is also a form of safety clothing. Race drivers partaking in sanctioned events by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile such as Formula One, Formula E and World Rally Championship must wear a fire retardant balaclava that prevents severe burns in an event of a fiery crash.
In 2018, the balaclava made headway into fashion after appearances on the runways of Gucci and Vetements. However, it was not embraced with open arms. Many saw the accessory as an appropriation of Black culture and a way of glorifying violence because balaclavas are actively used in robberies, muggings and other criminal activity.
The lukewarm reception did not stop designer Demna from transplanting the face-covering garment into Balenciaga after his departure from Vetements. Many of the viral Balenciaga looks over the years include a mask that is usually a play on the classic balaclava.
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However, artists such as Rihanna, Kanye West and Billie Eilish have donned similar masks and silhouettes as an expression of their art, which has slowly changed the general audience’s tune when it comes to this trend.
As we adapt to the persistent pandemic, fashion creators have found solace in this controversial headgear as well. Independent textile artist Alexandria Masse became a sensation for her one-of-a-kind crochet balaclavas in the shape of a teapot, a mace and a rabbit, just to name a few.
Why are balaclavas so popular right now? No one knows the real reason. Perhaps, it has something to do with reinvention.
After secluding ourselves for years and having more time to reflect on who we are, there is no doubt that some people are coming out of this pandemic a little bruised. There is no reason why a balaclava can’t provide emotional support like it does to conceal and protect the physical identity of the wearer.
Although our sunny weather in Singapore does not call for the practicality of balaclavas, we can still get in on the action as an empowering fashion statement or an emotional guard. After all, trends are fleeting and are meant to be played with. Here are some of our cool picks.