As seasons change, so do trends in the fashion and beauty industry. But, with these ever-growing trends and experiments made through variations in texture and fabric composition, risks and controversy may inevitably follow.
In recent winter months, the fashion community has seen a variety of new and trendy winter clothes arriving at department and online stores. These brands have come out with new styles and approaches to the typical winter uniform with the hopes of replacing it with more high-fashion styles. This is where we see the rise in the use of balaclavas.
Balaclavas are head accessories used to protect the neck and sometimes parts of the face from cold temperatures. Commonly known as a “face covering” or a “ski mask,” some variations of this trendy accessory greatly resemble the symbolic and religious headscarf worn by the female Muslim population. This headpiece is known as the hijab.
Throughout history, hijabs and their religious symbolism have been key to the Muslim identity. It represents one’s loyalty to their religious practices, it is an encouragement of modesty and is a custom used to define one’s culture and values.
For most in this community, a hijab is more than fashion. It is a lifestyle, a lineage, a connection to one’s past and culture and carries personalized meanings to each of its wearers.
This is where the fashion world may see some controversy from its romanticization of such a similar accessory. Sagal Jama, a Toronto-based influencer and student, asserted that culture is deep-rooted and cannot be discarded in the same way that fashion trends are.
“You can take off a balaclava and abandon the trend, but race, religion and gender are things that somebody can’t just wake up and abandon,” Jama told The New York Times.
In the article, Jama recalled seeing the initial winter accessory choice arise on social media and felt excited to see the new trends flourish and new methods of representation growing in the fashion world. But, she quickly realized that there are many ethical lines being crossed.
“People are able to wear a balaclava and be perceived as trendy or cool,” Jama said. “But a hijab can be seen as a symbol of oppression or political.”
This stark contrast causes stirs in the conversation of cultural appropriation in fashion, as well its hypocrisy and overlooked double standards. These negative influences are not only said to be seen throughout Hollywood and on runways, but also in daily streetwear and mainstream fashion. And finally, it is being called out by different communities on a variety of platforms.
In an article for the Stylist, Hafsa Lodi, a journalist and author, writes that the balaclava carries different perceptions depending on one’s desire to use it for fashion or the other to use it for religious and cultural purposes.
“One is being deemed fashionable, while the other is often a symbol of oppression or extremism in the mainstream Western media, and has provoked widespread bans in many European countries,” Lodi wrote.
In many European countries and some Canadian cities, similar headwear is banned and considered to be pushing religious agendas, including hijabs, niqabs and burqas.
Regardless of people using balaclavas as a method of protection from COVID-19 and the winter cold, many of these locations still maintained their ban on the use of these other religious headscarves while allowing the use of balaclavas. This raises even more questions about the prejudice and Islamophobic practices of the political elite and admired fashion moguls.
Even though there are many critiques about the use of balaclavas as a method of keeping up with trends and fads, there are also others who see it as a step in the right direction.
In an article for the New York Times, Tayah Jabarah, a content creator under the TikTok username @subwaytattoo, encourages the use of balaclavas and similar headwear to her hijab in a TikTok video. She expresses that hijabs, although for religious and cultural purposes, are not any different from the balaclava.
With hopes of recontextualizing the notion that hijabs are an oppressive tool for Muslim women, Jabarah states in her video, “I feel like a lot of people think that wearing a hijab is a horrible and torturous process that everyone hates,” Jabarah said. “It’s not.”
Even though a hijab does hold deeply rooted meanings, it also works as a tool for fashion and comfort, just like the balaclava.
“Sometimes I put it on to take a nap in my own home because it is cozy and comfy and warm,” Jabarah said. “So, you know just, while you’re enjoying it, maybe just keep in mind how we could also enjoy it.”
Whether or not you use the balaclava for as innocent of a purpose as keeping your face warm, users must recognize that there is a parallel between the styles of this winter accessory and other religious head coverings, such as the hijab. As well as this, they must also see the contrast between society’s treatment of this trend’s different wearers.
The most important result of this conversation is to bring to light the hypocrisy in the fashion industry and to break down the double-standards society has placed on individuals who dress in the name of culture and/or religion, and those who dress in the name of popular trends.