There is a touching retro side to the balaclava, they often appear handmade, as if following a pattern found in one of those knitting magazines that were common sights on coffee tables in the 1960s and 70s. But why the 60s and 70s? Because these are the decades when winter sports began to become more democratic. Skiing became more accessible and resorts were beginning to install ski lifts on a large scale. As a result of this newfound mass appeal, and for its exoticism, the balaclava became desirable, a symbol of a playful and joyful way of life. It also became urbanized.

Coming into town, the balaclava was first installed in schools as an accessory reserved for children. In very cold weather, especially in the early morning, when the children were being picked up for school, it offers formidable three-in-one protection: a muffler, hat and earmuffs all in one. But above all, it frames the face in an adorable way, it makes the cheeks bounce and highlights the freshness of childish features. For adults and teenagers, outside of skiing, there’s little use for it, it is certainly not a seductive piece of headgear. On the contrary, in the age of complex hairstyles, rocker bananas and blowouts, it was an oddity.

Seizing everything the street offers

And then, finally, the children found that it was just too childish, that it was tight, that it scratched, that it hampered their vision. They created scenes when they had to put it on. Wiser children simply hid theirs in the bottom of their satchel when the bus arrived, so as not to make a fuss, and the appeal of the childish balaclava ended up passing.

But if you look closely, the balaclava is not restrictive. We find it in the cinema and in comics, under the helmet of F1 champions, fighter pilots, bikers or firefighters. It also covers the face of gangsters, burglars and assassins. The hood protects and preserves anonymity. She is part of the hero and villain panoply, but she doesn’t fit into everyday life. For a long time, teenagers playing at being bad boys, or rebels were satisfied with a hoodie. Teenage girls also adopted the hoodie, which gives a sense of security in situations where they’d rather pass unnoticed.

Fashion, that seizes everything the street offers, took the hoodie and turned it into an icon. Until 2021, the hoodie was the go-to styling exercise for established houses and newbies alike, with sumptuous interpretations such as those seen at Alaïa and more recently at Valentino in a variation based on modest fashion.

Emergency Room

A few years ago, we saw the young Lebanese designer Eric Ritter make a line of crocheted balaclavas that formed large circles around the eyes, like a bare skull: these elements were reminiscent of a je-ne-sais quoi from Alexander McQueen. Emerging out of a traditional sewing workshop, Ritter had the idea to ask his craftswomen to create something more subversive, provocative, offbeat. These distinctive coverings have helped define the identity of Emergency Room, an inclusive, ethical and environmentally friendly brand.

At the same time, or shortly before, Marine Serre won the LVMH Young Designer prize and founded her eponymous house, where her now famous crescent moon print was spread over a full jersey jumpsuit that also covered the head. In December 2021, with the surge in DIY fashion, knitting and crochet Instagram and Tiktok sites and accounts, all encouraged by the lockdown, we saw the proliferation of balaclavas as ridiculous as they are adorable, some featuring the heads of dogs, cats or rabbits, ears included. Syrian designer Eesa Alkhdr, who runs a crochet workshop with his sister Maria called Nahfeh Studio, imagined a balaclava in the shape of a medieval helmet with an articulated lower part into which a sanitary mask could be inserted.

The trend is already here, muted, everywhere and nowhere. It takes a star to pick it all up and turn it into a phenomenon. And it was Ye, who is still called Kanye West, who came to reclaim his status as a pioneer in the wearing of the balaclava, he who, since 2012, has worn a series of crazy designs by Martin Margiela and Demna Gvasalia. For the launch of his album Donda, in August 2021, he wore his simplest, but most impressive, hood yet: One that looks like the nylon stockings that burglars put on to rob banks without being recognized.

British housewives

And because whatever we do, everything is ultimately political, the cruel reality of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is only the echo of an older war, the Crimean War, which was also provoked by Russian expansionism, and that raged from 1853 to 1856. To help the soldiers withstand the cold, British housewives up and down the country had crafted tight-knit hoods that covered the face and neck, while leaving holes for the eyes and nose.

During the war, a battle based on a misunderstanding took place outside the city of Balaklava and caused the British Army to lose hundreds of its best horsemen. Michael Curtiz made a film about this sad story, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, starring Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn. The tragedy inspired Alfred, Lord Tennyson to write a poem “Half a league/ Half a league/ Half a league onward/ All in the valley of Death/ Rode the six hundred…”.

Famous for a tragedy, the balaclava has been finally been reclaimed.