You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

How I was convinced to embrace the balaclava (and why I will never look back)

Harper's Bazaar (UK) logo Harper's Bazaar (UK) 5 days ago Anna Rosa Vitiello

"The knitwear team is obsessed with my balaclava... they want to use it!" It's December 2020 and I’m on the phone to my best friend in New York, who happens to have accidentally coined her company’s next cult design. She works for one of luxury fashion’s most coveted labels – the kind that regularly succeeds in turning the mundane into every fashion editor’s must-have. She is talking about the beige wool balaclava that she hand-knitted for herself during lockdown 2.0 – the result of a dual effort to acquire a new skill and simultaneously find a resourceful way to get through those pesky sub-zero, snowy New York days.

Strict lockdown measures meant that she – like so many of us – found herself spending more time outdoors than ever before, whether walking to work instead of taking the subway, grabbing lunch under an outdoor heater, or stepping out onto her snow-covered balcony if only to break up the tedious daily grind of working from home. The cold had become increasingly bitter, and she needed a practical solution. Graciously, she offered to knit me one of my own, but, until then, balaclavas hadn’t really felt like my thing.

Practicality, you see, is not one of my strong points. Over the course of the past two years, I have successfully avoided a flurry of pandemic-driven sartorial shifts, including loungewear, sheepskin sandals and North Face puffer jackets, opting, instead, for stirrup leggings over sweatpants and silk scarves rather than beanie hats. The latter saw me through summer, autumn and even part of winter, but what now, when the snow hits and all social activity involves long periods spent outdoors? What now, when scheduling a catch up with a friend involved the inevitable long, cold walk along some windy common, with only a takeaway coffee between your fingers for warmth?

That the answer came to me in a conversation with my uber stylish best friend is no surprise – a few unsuccessful attempts at wrapping up sans balaclava was enough to leave me open to the idea that I needed one, and I trusted her style advice implicitly. So, too, was the Pinterest-related discovery that some of the most iconic women – from Grace Jones to the late Audrey Hepburn – had donned one, ousting my preconception that all knitted headgear simply lacked sophistication.

Grace Jones wearing a pink dress: gettyimages-471326722 © Mondadori Portfolio - Getty Images gettyimages-471326722

The balaclava, of course, isn’t something new: a runway mainstay, it appears every few winters in varying forms. Gucci’s autumn/winter 2018 collection gave it one of its biggest moments; an ode to the Japanese dance-drama Kabuki, Alessandro Michele’s iterations featured stripes, pom poms and bejewelled embellishment on patterned headgear. Calvin Klein and French designer Marine Serre have also been keen adopters of the accessory – Serre’s second-skin balaclava became the first sellout hybrid of the face mask/PPE variety.

And, it turns out that my best friend was right. Over the past year, many more designers have embraced versions of the balaclava, including Miu Miu and Balenciaga. Meanwhile, searches for the style have gone through the roof. According to Klarna, they increased 498 per cent between September and October 2021 as the accessory officially went mainstream.

Miu Miu AW21 © Courtesy Miu Miu AW21

Of course, now, the balaclava is everywhere as brands high and low have adopted the accessory into their collections, which means that there have never been more options to choose from.

If you're looking to invest yourself, make sure to check out Perfect Moment’s colourful, sporty versions, which look as good shimmying down the slopes as they do jogging in the city, while knitwear designer Ami Amalia’s elegant balaclavas are as subtle as they are versatile. For more retro-inspired ski-mask chic, look no further than Cashmere-in-Love, whose Wira style is reminiscent of that iconic balaclava worn by Jackie Kennedy on the Laurentian Mountains back in 1968; the balaclava’s staying power, I’m learning, is par for the course.

If the face-covering variety isn’t for you, rest assured that there is no shortage of stylish alternatives to choose from. Cult puffer-coat brand Ienki Ienki’s Hustka headgear is the perfect scarf-hood hybrid that is as timeless as it is of-the-moment – see influencer Linda Tol for for proof, who recently styled it beautifully with an army-green coat and a classic pair of shades. Meanwhile, Totême's relaxed wool scarf hood makes light work of staying stylish and warm during colder climes, and is the perfect building block of a tonal head-to-toe knitwear look.

And while this is certainly an of-the-moment accessory that has been adopted by the masses, something in my Pinterest research tells me that I’ll be wearing my balaclava for years to come.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Harper's Bazaar

Harper's Bazaar (UK)
Harper's Bazaar (UK)
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon