The balaclava, also known as a ski mask, has developed into an unusual fashion essential. The balaclava, which is typically made of wool, mohair, or some type of yarn, has a large face hole or just room for the eyes.
Web searches for the headwear increased 344 percent year over year between 2021 and 2022, and the global fashion e-commerce platform Lyst recently named the balaclava as one of the hottest products during the final quarter of 2021 based on search data gathered from Google, Instagram, and Depop. During the final two months of 2021, searches for the accessory increased by more than five times on the resale website StockX.
Drill musicians, who in recent years have transitioned from underground performers to mainstream trendsetters, are cited by Sam Trotman, pop culture expert and founder of Samutaro magazine, as the primary factor behind the balaclava's popularity. He says that face coverings by drill artists are frequently used to display alter egos, maintain privacy, and evade surveillance in addition to keeping the face warm. The well-known SL, K Trap, and members of the OFB crew are notable wearers.
So, where did the balaclava come from and how did some of the biggest designers in the field fall in love with it?
Historically, the balaclava has been more frequently linked to battlefield strategies than runway fashion. These masks get their name from the Ukrainian port city of Balaclava, which served as the setting for a battle in the Crimean War in 1854 during which British and Irish troops were sent to engage Russian soldiers in bitter cold. Because the UK army arrived with nothing but their soiled summer uniform, morale was low during the war. British women started knitting full-face hats for their men and sending them out to the barracks as soon as word of this scandalous lack of supplies reached the UK.
After being worn by pro-Russian separatist demonstrators to avoid detection, the knitted headgear has since come to represent the militias of eastern Europe. Many people read them as indicators of threatening, anti-conformist behaviour, but in recent years, more whimsical connections have been made. You can now easily find versions that are candy-colored and have bunny ears.
The balaclava bubble, according to Rachel Tashjian, the fashion critic for GQ, probably began around this time in 2018 as a result of the high-end streetwear brand Vetements, which was co-founded by Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia (also known as Demna), who also oversees creative direction at Balenciaga. (Kim Kardashian West was dressed by Demna in a black bodysuit and full face mask for the Met Gala a few years ago.) At the time, Vetements unveiled a line of baseball caps adorned with colourful silk scarves and militant balaclavas as accessories.
It shouldn't be a huge surprise that TikTok has also contributed to the development of the trend. The term "balaclava" has received over 152 million views on the platform since 2021, when a swarm of the platform's more stylish users posted videos while driving while wearing balaclavas and sunglasses.