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The Controversy of the Balaclava

By: Camryn Ling

The Balaclava:

I'm sure you've seen this item adorning the heads of several TikTokers, influencers, etc., but what is the balaclava? While we're all no stranger to the weird trends that come out of TikTok, this item has been winter 2021-2022's latest. The balaclava, or a ski mask, is a cloth that goes over your head, exposing only your eyes or a small portion of your upper face. Typically, these pieces are made from wool, mohair, or some form of yarn.

How did this piece become so popular? While usually used out of necessity during winter, this accessory has developed into a fashionable statement piece. Regular consumers are used to seeing odd pieces come out of high-end fashion brands, and the balaclava was one of them. This past winter, the balaclava was done by Virgil Abloh in a "hallucinatory checkerboard-style," and Givenchy in an "avant-garde twist featuring knitted devil horns." The pandemic has led to a new market of fashionable masks to match people's outfits, so it was inevitable that the balaclava would soon follow. While part of this rise in popularity can be attributed to high-end designers adopting this item, there is no doubt that Tik-Tok played a considerable role in giving rise to it.

While thousands enjoy this new trend, others are raising concerns. While it's for warmth during winter can't be faulted, one can't help but question its similarity to the head coverings worn by Muslim women. The hijab is "a religious headscarf worn by Muslim women, typically worn to maintain modesty or serve as religious symbols." Headscarves are important to several cultures, so while those who partake in this trend are perceived as fashionable, wearers of the hijab, niqab (a veil covering the face only leaving the eyes seen), or other types of religious headscarves can't help but see the difference in treatment over simply what headscarf represents. Muslim women in particular face backlash, most infamously in France, where they outright banned the wearing of the hijab. The only significant difference is the intent behind wearing these head coverings.

Just as the intent behind wearing these head coverings warrant different reactions, the wearer's race does too. "The color of your skin dictates how people will perceive you." Will people perceive a woman devoted to her religion, or will they see a woman wearing a trendy headpiece? This trend has highlighted the often inconsistent or discriminative treatment of those who wear head coverings.

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