October 14 / Street style

The Balaclava: Measured Madness?

There’s a distinctly Autumnal, even, wintery chill in the London air, so I’ve upped the thermostat and I’m digging out the knits and woolly hats for winter. But a balaclava?  Is this item, I ask myself, measured fashion madness or utter madness?

What’s with this continued interest in masks and balaclavas?

Kanye West donned a red balaclava at a Margiela catwalk show at the beginning of the year. Justin Bieber wore a black Chanel one and just last month at London Fashion Week, Cara Delevingne, who’s known for her slightly bonkers off-catwalk wardrobe was snapped face-masked. Was Cara merely playing hide and seek with pop’s current poster boy, Harry Styles? Or is this going to be a street style that grows and grows? What’s not in doubt is that it’s likely to have shop-keepers constantly on edge if we all start rocking ‘thief’ chic this winter.



(Kanye West – FameFlynet Pictures, Justin Bieber’s Instagram, Cara Delevingne – Getty)


The balaclava has a long military history, used both as a tool to protect and intimidate by military groups and criminals alike. They were originally created to protect British troops from the extreme, cold temperatures during the Crimean War in the Ukraine in the 19th Century. In the 20th Century however, the balaclava’s reputation related less to its effective protection against the elements and more to the power it gave to its wearer to intimidate. It became part of the standard Russian OMON (special police task force) uniform as early as the Perestroyka years of the late 1980s. It was originally intended to be used to protect the police officers identities from organised crime, but in fact once unidentifiable, the balaclava-wearing officers had carte blanche to be as aggressive and violent to anyone they chose to raid or search.


(VFiles-Gypsy Sport Pom Pom Mask)


Pussy Riot effectively appropriated the balaclava by wearing brightly coloured ones during their guerilla performances. Since their incarceration, their supporters have worn balaclavas as a mark of solidarity at protest marches.

(Pussy Riot by Igor Mukhin)


And Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers girls gone gun-wild certainly puts a interesting spin on things, the styling was seen as so of the zeitgeist that Open Ceremony did a collaboration with the costume designer Heidi Bivens.


(Photographed by Annabel Mehran)


So you want to embrace your inner Riot Grrrl and support Pussy Riot or perhaps you’re celebrity with paparazzi malaise, well ok then, you go get the mask on! Wanna get the ultimate fierce selfie? You own this look girl!  Off to shop to pick up some milk and a paper? Do it at your own peril…

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