While low-slung jeans and string tops are making serious claims to 2021’s last fashion-trend crown,a far less revealing item looks to have pipped these to the post. The balaclava, the snood-like headwear more often seen on ski slopes and in combat, is the surprising trend of the season.
In the past month, the secondhand clothing site Depop has had a 145% increase in searches for balaclavas. Likewise, on the global fashion platform Lyst, page views for the one-piece are up 18% month on month.
Lyst attributes the balaclava’s rise in popularity to Kim Kardashian’s headline-grabbing Met Gala outfit by Balenciaga, which comprised a full-face covering, after which searches for balaclavas jumped by 62% within 48 hours. As a result, the “wider ‘fetish facewear’ trend has been gaining traction on our platform over the past few weeks,” says Lyst’s content lead, Morgane Le Caer. Depop, meanwhile, points to TikTok, which is seeing a revival of “retro accessories” in styling videos with generation Z “reclaiming the trend”.
There are plenty of retro options on the secondhand market to repurpose and recycle balaclavas (named after the Battle of Balaclava in the 1854 Crimean war). Meanwhile, fashion designers such as Stella McCartney, Marine Serre and Stone Island are placing the head gear front and centre of their new collections, starting at £150.
Other designers are attempting to break new ground. Givenchy has a mesh-mohair balaclava with built-in horns for £340; the Danish designer Cecilie Bahnsen’s version (£305) has a frilly pie-crust neck; and Loro Piana has a chunky argyle-knit number for £900. On the high street, more understated options are available from Arket, & Other Stories and Urban Outfitters, from £15.
The fashion industry has Raf Simons, the current co-creative director at Prada, to thank for making them cool again, says Highsnobiety’s editorial director, Christopher Morency. Simons has featured them in his ready-to-wear collections since the early 2000s.
“When brands see the success of an unexpected item elsewhere, merchandisers across the board can’t help telling their design teams to recreate it,” says Morency. “In that way, fashion isn’t as original as it tells you it is.”
He cites UK rappers such as Skepta and Pa Salieu as modern-day pinups for the balaclava and says the privacy, practicality and protection that comes with wearing one is another factor for its resurgence. Morency adds that “shoppers are getting more comfortable with taking sartorial risks”. Far from being a fleeting trend, he predicts the balaclava’s longevity.
“Now that growth has become the only acceptable performance metric in fashion as business has taken over, that means brands will sell you anything that sticks,” he says. “I think therefore the balaclava will certainly be around for a long time. The group who wears it might opt in and out, and evolve; the item will not.”