Why The Balaclava Is Winter’s Hottest Accessory

Cozy up.

Originally Published: 
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Angela Rozas Saiz wears a blue braided wool hood / balaclava

There’s nothing like the blast of an icy breeze tearing across your face to remind you: winter weather is not to be messed with. Face one snowstorm or an early morning stuck outside, and you quickly realize that braving the elements requires preparation: a turtleneck to snuggle up to your chin, a heavy coat to batten down in, gloves to hold off the tingly bite of freezing fingers. And this winter, the balaclava is making a return among trendsetters as a practical pick to keep your head and face protected.

Though the balaclava is by no means new (the origin dates back to the Crimean war in 1854, when it was issued to soldiers to fight freezing winter temperatures), major fashion houses like Miu Miu and Marine Serre incorporated them into their Fall/Winter 2021 collections, helping to cement their reemergence. Add to that their burgeoning presence on social media — a rising trend on both Instagram and TikTok — and it’s easy to anoint the knitted head cover as this winter’s sub-zero trend to try. In fact, with the adjustment to full-time mask-wearing along with a surge in crafting over the last two years, there’s a through-line to the balaclava’s popularity. “The Miu Miu Fall/Winter 2021 show definitely inspired me to make my own balaclava,” explains Michelle Li, a stylist, writer, and creative director based in New York. “Instead of searching endlessly trying to guess which one would fit I just made my own.”

Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2022Kristy Sparow/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The granny-chic accessory has been on the industry’s radar for a few years, with Gucci and Calvin Klein helping to bring it back as early as 2018, but right now feels particularly relevant both as a means of protection, and way to get a bit more playful with practical fashion choices for those feeling more emboldened in their fashion choices. “I don't really wear hats or beanies so this fills my head accessory void,” explains Li. “I love that it makes an outfit feel more seamless and clean and any opportunity to inject some knitwear into my outfit is always a huge plus.”

The balaclava’s current resurgence can also be tied back to the renewed popularity in ski-inspired fashion, with Fendi, Dior, and Chanel all releasing their own slopes-to-chalet capsules this season. “The balaclava is really the only hat to wear during the intense winter chill. It helps shield your face against freezing wind. I love that you can wear it over your face or cupped under your chin,” says Nikki Kule, founder of playful basics label Kule, and early advocate of the resurgent trend. “I was inspired to make our very first Moritz balaclava for KULE's Fall 2017 collection by the famous photograph of Jackie O by Harry Benson (1968). We make fun trapper hats and dickie hoods, so the balaclava is a natural playful addition.”

Below, find all the inspiration you need for incorporating the balaclava into your own winter wardrobe. Consider this the proof you need: covering up can be chic.

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Sporty Chic

For traipsing outdoors, consider the practical choice of a zip-up balaclava that can be easily layered under a pile of sweaters without creating too much extra bulk. Consider a playful color to add an unexpected touch to your look.

High-Fashion Take

Miu Miu

If you’re on board with the designer iterations, consider testing out the playful crochet option from Miu Miu, which as proven on the snowy “runway,” works surprisingly well sans coat.

Hit The Slopes

If your goal is to keep your face from getting chapped and cold on a day outdoors, one benefit of the balaclava is the easy way in which you can transition it from sitting below the chin, to covering everything but your eyes. Finish with a pair of oversized sunglasses for maximum coverage.

Cozy At Home

“I really love wearing it with something with a lower, more exposed neckline and then with a scarf to top it all off,” explains Li. “I think that juxtaposition of being super covered up but revealing some skin is really nice. I love pairing it with something that feels more formal and less casual.”

Style Staple

Edward Berthelot/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

If your intention is more about making a statement than it is fighting the brutal winds of winter, use your balaclava as a single ingredient in a bold wintery ensemble. Lug-sole boots, a furry jacket, and a playful statement purse together create a playful look worthy of the season.

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