Meditations on Fall's Oddest (and Hottest) Trend
Okay, so I’m all for experimental fashion trends. If you think about it, strange items go in and out of style all the time. For the most part, they’re a good laugh and then happily enter into obscurity. I normally don’t pay that much attention to those ephemeral, campy kind of trends, but this one…this one’s got me hooked.
SO… Here’s the tea on the balaclava trend.
In recent news (i.e. last February’s Fall Runway shows), balaclavas started popping up in shows for Calvin Klein, Alexander Wang, Preen, and Gucci. Some decorative, others in monochrome tones, some with plenty of room for breathing and others…well…I guess you only really need your eyes to be exposed….
Shortly after fashion month, the newly redesigned balaclava made its first public appearance on Rihanna at Coachella in April, stirring up all the buzz around Fall’s hottest (literally) accessory. And now that it’s finally starting to get colder around here and more and more people are donning sweaters, scarves and beanies, we’ve got one question on our minds:
Will balaclavas be making any appearances this winter?
In order to fully understand where this trend came from, it makes sense to take a look into the balaclava’s utilitarian, social and historical appeal as both a winter clothing staple and a fashion statement. Think about it as fashion-science? Or fashion history? Fashion anthropology?? To be honest, I’m really just trying to justify my purchasing of a balaclava for the upcoming winter chill.
Conceived in the 1850’s by British soldiers fighting in Russia as a means to keep one’s facial features warm, the balaclava was the ultimate battle accessory. Named after the Crimean City, the balaclava played a more utilitarian role for English soldiers to keep themselves from catching facial frostbite while at war and weren’t as, uh, decorative as they are now. After the war wrapped up, the balaclava was thrown into armoires and dressers, left out of fashion for the time being, but anxious to make their grand re-entrance.
Balaclavas made their return nearly a century later, when their utilitarian appeal began to make them a hot item in the athletic and military scene. The combination of warmth, concealment and sleekness made it a prime item for snowboarders, police officers and apparently, race-car drivers. I guess there was thinking that balaclavas enhanced one’s aerodynamism?
In 2011, balaclavas entered the public eye in a way that nobody expected. The Russian, feminist, protest/punk group Pussy Riot donned neon balaclavas with vibrant dresses and tights during an impromptu performance in a Moscow Cathedral, stirring controversy around what appeared to be a sacrilegious and confusing number. Following several of these public guerrilla concerts, balaclavas slowly became associated with hooliganism and rebellion. In many ways, they were like superhero masks for these young women: brightly colored, iconic and a means concealment. Balaclavas became a symbol of protest against oppressive authority as women began to wear them to show their support for Pussy Riot, as well as for protesting their trial and arrest in Russia. This utilitarian item became an item that symbolized a demand for equality as well as a demonstration of beauty being used for power in the most perplexing and wonderful way.
And that brings us to today…
Stars like Rihanna have embraced the strength in this odd accessory. Its utilitarian and militaristic history is inseparable from its image, and its sudden uprise in today’s political climate sets the accessory in a rather… dystopian context. Yet there’s something oddly uplifting about the balaclava: something fun and individual, yet still useful. The balaclava truly seems to be a modern version of armor; it keeps you warm and keeps you concealed, and in an era of constant digital supervision, isn’t that all we can ask for: obscurity and protection?
At least now we can do it in style!
Feature image via.