Can You Wear a Balaclava in Real Life? One Vogue Writer Puts the Fall 2018 Trend to the Test
“Am I supposed to know what a balaclava is?” asked a colleague after I told her I was going to wear one around for a few days. “It’s basically a ski mask,” I replied. “Oh! Like Calvin Klein’s, right?” Correct. And Gucci, Marni, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, and Dior, among other designer iterations. The knit head covering was one of the strangest accessories to make a statement on the Fall 2018 runways, even giving the ugly shoe a run for its money. It made sense in context, though, as many of the collections this season were based on ideas of safety, protection, and preparation for an apocalypse. It’s actually a really practical accessory, too, one that has long been worn by winter sports lovers, as well as soldiers on the front lines in cold-climate battles. In fact, the balaclava was invented during the frigid Crimean War just after the Battle of Balaklava, when local townspeople knitted caps for the soldiers to wear underneath their helmets. In modern times, it has also become a symbol for protesters, like the members of Pussy Riot, who wear pink balaclavas to hide their faces. It obscures your identity and keeps you warm, but today, is it a reliable, wearable hat in a place like New York City? Since spring started with a fourth nor’easter last week, I decided that, though we’re far from fall, now was as good a time as any to put it to the test.
The balaclavas I tried out were slightly less dramatic than the Calvin Klein or Gucci versions. Made by the New York–based label Kule, they looked like the one worn by Jackie Kennedy in a mountainside ski photo taken by Harry Benson in 1968: sporty and slightly retro. For the few moments I went outside during last Wednesday’s blizzard, I wore one and was happy I did—they really do work. The next day, I slipped another on in the Vogue office and wandered around, waiting for reactions. There was a lot of laughter and Instagrams were posted. I almost lost a vintage silver hoop earring trying to get it on. Then it started to get really hot. Speaking through the fabric created an insulated sauna for my face. I should also point out that I’d just eaten lunch and, as a word of caution, breathing in your own air after a spiced lentil soup is far from ideal.
Outside was a different story. The next day, a colleague and I walked out of One World Trade and over to Brookfield Place to grab lunch. I could barely feel the fierce winds flying up the West Side Highway, but I also couldn’t emote. My coworker said something funny and I turned to her to show that I was smiling, but she couldn’t see it. “I feel like I just got Botox,” I told her. “No one can tell if I’m happy, sad, mad, or indifferent.” Some little kids looked at me and seemed slightly frightened, and one older man squinted at me skeptically, as if he thought I was going to rob the place, but otherwise I got way less side-eye than I’d expected. When I tried ordering a salad at the bustling assembly line, I couldn’t make out the word avocado through the cashmere. I took it off, took a deeper breath of the kind of fresh air that one isn’t able to breathe with a balaclava on, and returned to work sans hat.
Over the weekend I got the sniffles, but decided to brave the still-chilly temperatures and go to SoulCycle for a spin. I put on my balaclava and grumpily walked through Tribeca to the studio. Pro: The covering over my face provided a filter through which no more cold air would enter my mouth or nose and make my cough and sneezing worse. Con: Let’s just say it can get messy under there when you’re dealing with a leaky nose (sorry, but it’s true). The fancy moms in the neighborhood glared at me, and some giggled to their friends pushing matching strollers. The ever-peppy staff at SoulCycle, of course, declared, “Cool hat!” After a sweaty class, I put it back on (again, not an ideal hygiene situation) and trekked back home. Wearing sweatpants, hiking boots, and a balaclava with a little puff ball at the top, I definitely didn’t look like a Calvin Klein model ready for some chic end-of-the-world party. But I was cozy, and though I don’t think you’ll see me with a bejeweled cap covering my entire head and face this fall, I’m sure plenty of street stylers will be wearing them. Their only problem? You won’t be able to tell who they are.