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.