Scroll through Instagram, TikTok or Pinterest this winter and you’ll see thousands of youthful faces framed inside what looks like an overgrown knitted sock. The balaclava, sometimes called a ski mask, has become an unusual sartorial staple — and a late entry in the race to claim 2021’s hottest fashion trend.
“Recent balaclava designs from the likes of Stella McCartney all the way through to those now on sale at Zara are fueling the demand among all ages,” said Jessica Payne, Pinterest’s head of fashion, over email. She noted searches for balaclavas have jumped 230% since the start of November.
The balaclava is the knitted winter staple all over runways and social media feeds. Credit: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
The late Virgil Abloh dressed models in balaclava styles during the Louis Vuitton menswear show during Paris Fashion Week in June. Credit: Dominique Charriau/WireImage/Getty Images
So, where did the balaclava come from and how did it capture the imagination of some of the industry’s biggest designers?
Balaclavas have a military history, stemming from the Crimean War during the 19th century and enduring today. Credit: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images
According to Rachel Tashjian, GQ’s resident fashion critic, the balaclava bubble likely started around this time in 2018 thanks to luxury streetwear label Vetements, co-founded by Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia (known as Demna), who also leads creative direction at Balenciaga. (At the Met Gala this fall, Demna dressed Kim Kardashian West in a black bodysuit and full face mask). At the time, Vetements released a collection accessorized with militant balaclavas and florid silk scarves wrapped around baseball caps.
It was “eastern European style with a 20-year delay,” Tashjian said via email. “The attitude of the collection was equal parts menacing and grandma-like, the result of rebuilding flea market garments from other periods into something new.”
Demna Gvasalia and Kim Kardashian showed up at the Met Gala this past September with their faces entirely obscured. Credit: John Shearer/WireImage/Getty Images
“Usually trends that serve a purpose end up lasting longer in the cycle,” she commented, adding, “(The balaclava) makes me really excited.”
Top image: Influencer Maria Barteczko, wearing a black balaclava beanie by Weekday during a street style shoot on November 19, 2021 in Cologne, Germany.