Is This Winter Trend Chic or Ridiculous? You Decide

When you search on Wikipedia for “baklava,” its entry is immediately followed by this italicized clause: Not to be confused with balaclava. From this day forward, you’ll never have to worry about that again. Baklava, the flaky pastry with Ottoman Empire origins, and balaclavas, utilitarian ski masks with a military past, are easily distinguishable.

For context: I spent the last week of 2017 in the northernmost region of America, where the temperature danced around subzero the entire time. To keep from going stir-crazy (there are only so many rounds of Cranium one can play), my significant other and I ventured out on one walk per day, as far as we could make it in jackets, which were souvenirs from my mother’s time reporting on the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway (an entry-point into my fascination with Tonya Harding, but that’s a story for another time). Pacing down the beach with clumsy boots, oversized jackets, ski masks and bulky headgear, we felt like astronauts walking on the moon, zigzagging around moon rock.

This is all to say that during one of these walks, when I wore a jewel-toned balaclava to keep my nostrils from freezing shut, I was hit with a gust of wind and a caption idea for an Instagram I never posted: Is “eating baklava while wearing a balaclava winter’s sequel to the pie eating contest?” The joke here, all wordplay aside, is nestled in the logistics: it is nearly impossible, and certainly absurd, to eat anything — especially a dense yet flaky pastry — while wearing a ski mask. I repeated the joke a few times, got two laughs and one eye-roll, and retired it as I grappled with new questions: What do I wear on New Year’s Eve? How long is this drive back home? I’ve been in a Yeti-grade climate for the past week — why isn’t the heat in this New York apartment working?

Unbeknownst to me, Balaclava-mania would hit its stride weeks later. Maybe I should have taken note of the foreshadowing in Kule’s ode to Jackie Kennedy’s balaclava — seen famously in Harry Benson’s portrait of Jackie on the slopes, a woman instantly recognizable from that raccoon-mask-shaped sliver revealing her eyes. In February, Raf Simons announced the arrival of the balaclava on Calvin Klein’s Kubrickian runway, elegant on its own, yet terrifying when worn in tandem as an uniform. Then Gucci’s show sent everyone into a tizzy once more with balaclavas galore in the colors of Jordan almonds.

At some point following the Calvin Klein and Gucci shows, I asked Harling if wearing a balaclava as a fashion statement comes from the same impulse as posting a photo of yourself in a sheet mask on Instagram. Maybe there’s something about seeing isolated features emphasized, but full expressions concealed, that appeals to our narcissism and reveals a new way of looking at our own faces. And then a week later, as if spying on our exchange, Giambattista Valli sent models down the catwalk obscured by faces full of holographic glitter.

The emergence of ski masks on two of this season’s most striking runways poses one question: Will anyone actually wear balaclavas when November’s temperatures dip and next fall’s bomb cyclones and “thundersnow” rear their ugly heads? I’d argue that we should consider it: balaclavas have the power to transform a tired winter outfit into something both playful and practical, rendering someone like me into a life-size sock monkey. It’s the only foul weather gear that will keep passersby on their toes as they wonder if I’m on my way to rob a Sweetgreen.

What’s your take? If you’re on the fence, behold our shoot: the siren song of balaclavas and baklava.

Photos by Edith Young; Styled by Harling Ross. Modeled by Madison Kirkbride of Wilhelmina Models and Samia Hampstead.

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  • pterridactyl

    Now I want baklava….

  • Suzan

    I think the one that only goes over the ears is sorta kinda cute and.

    But the ones that cover the actual face just reminds me of criminals and terrorists. Because of that when I first saw them on the runway I wrecked my brain to figure out what kind of comment the designers were making on society by including balaclava’s.
    Now I’ve seen them more and more in fashion (online, not IRL) that connotation wore off a bit. I would however still frown if I saw them on the streets here (in NL where it never gets cold enough to warrant ski masks), but that’s also because when it comes to fashion I’m not a l’art pour l’art kinda person I guess.

  • Aleda Johnson

    As someone who breaks out around my chin just from having to pull my scarf up in the cold, the thought of covering my whole face makes me cringe.

  • Rockrenee

    This trend reminds me more of my childhood and less with the terrorists as Suzan mentioned below.
    I had to wear piece like this when I was five, because the winters we had over here, really freezed you till the bone.
    BTW I would like to hear your story about Tonya Harding, do not let us hanging 🙂

    Rock Renee Blog

    • Suzan

      That’s adorable! I like your connotation way more than mine 🙂

    • iloveyouegg

      Same here! Balaklavas and essentially padded onesies were the style for basically half of the year. That said, I’m no longer a miniature michelin man in a pink balaclava and I’m not sure I’d be comfortable wearing one in black to suit my usual winter attire now… I am kind of digging the white Gucci one though!

  • AR

    Future-medical, sci-fi, highest fashion look. *praise emoji*

  • Harling Ross

    edith is there ANYTHING you don’t do beautifully ?????

  • It’s not chic or ridiculous; it’s problematic. So many associations of war and terrorism. I think it’s triggering territory that should be more mindfully approached.

    • cloudyy

      thoughts on camo? bomber jackets? aviators?

      • This is an interesting and fair point. I think I find this particular piece of clothing problematic as, I’ve said just to another person, my boyfriend was raised in Ireland during a time when the IRA wore this piece of clothing. I think as an American I lack sensitivity to a lot of things that would bother other people. I know this would bother him, and not just in a – oh, this reminds me of war. but in a – oh, this reminds me of a bombings/killings that impacted my family and left a legacy of PTSD and depression so deep in my country that they are experiencing uncharted rates of suicide decades later – so I’m sensitive to it.

    • Rania

      Do you associate it with terrorism because of the niqab that some Muslim women wear? Because _that_ is much more problematic.

      • No. I associate it with terrorism because of the balaclava the IRA wore. My boyfriend was raised in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

  • Emily Zirimis

    So beautiful Edith!!!!!!

  • Hannah Nichols

    There’s this Vampire Weekend song that has the world balaclava in it and I never knew that was just a fancy word for ski mask.

    also this article rocks.

  • Eleanor Boardman

    I truly am obsessed with both! Also is there such a thing as Baklava ice cream, I want it now!

  • ski masks are hot

  • I’m kinda into this. They do remind me of a robber out of an old movie, but I can completely understand wanting to be that covered in sub zero temps

  • As though I was cast member of “The Royal Tenenbaums “ I have worn a balaclava to appear eccentric. I really don’t advice this behavior. I love soup and having soup wearing a balaclava is not recommended. Don’t even walk near a bank and dogs won’t like you . Reserve the wearing of balaclavas for frigid weather ,skiing , and playing 50 Shades Grey parlor games !
    Dress The Part

  • For years I was given baklava as an xmas gift from my uncle. I miss it. I’ve never owned a chic balaclavas. I’m into it. I made a really scary balaclava a couple of years ago.

  • Madeleine

    Pls write more!

  • So basically, man repeller has dominated my instagram with balaclava and baklava and it’s bloody hilarious but fantastic ❤️💕 love you guys

  • Christine Dyson

    Undoubtedly practical but a bit of a curl Squasher. Although I could ‘plop’ my hair in public and no one would know! I do think they are irresistibly chic but at the same time, am worried about appearing a bit paramilitary because the balaclava is seditious. I think Leigh Bowery will be smiling down approvingly with his talent for makeup balaclavas. (If I could have one iota of his creativity then I would be thrilled beyond words).

  • Jen Clay

    This is definitely a look. Not sure if I have what it takes to pull it off, but I love that this is becoming a thing? For years I have asked myself why you can’t just casually rock a balaclava (I hate the cold so much). Needless to say, I’m very excited about this.

  • In Denmark degrees dropped to -8/9 celcious, and some of us are stubborn when it comes to biking everywhere, so I already embraced this trend. I must say, it’s utterly comforting, but my friends and strangers found it a little disturbing 😅

  • rachel

    Sadly I work at a bank so I feel like this would be frowned upon haha

  • Late Bloomer

    Have to say it’s de rigueur for robbing petrol stations here in New Zealand. When I saw the Gucci ones I was delighted at the idea of designer gear for the fashion forward criminal…

  • PrincessArmadillo

    In Montreal this isn’t so much going out on a fashion limb as it is a complete and total fucking necessity from Dec to Feb 😉

  • Cléo Charpantier

    After this beautiful ode to balaclavas, I must introduce you to early 2000s french version:
    A quick translation of its chorus is: throw on your balaclavas, if you don’t you’ll be cold and have the chills and goosebumps