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Scroll through Instagram, TikTok or Pinterest this winter and you'll see thousands of youthful faces framed inside what looks like an overgrown knitted sock. The balaclava, sometimes called a ski mask, has become an unusual sartorial staple -- and a late entry in the race to claim 2021's hottest fashion trend.

Typically made from wool, mohair or some form of yarn, the headpiece leaves room for a sizable face hole or just for the eyes. On TikTok, at the time of writing, there are 102.6 million videos attached to the hashtag "#balaclava," while another 248,000 people on Instagram have posted about the offbeat accessory. Interest is up on Google too, with the question "how to knit a balaclava" growing more than 5000% in the past 12 months -- likely thanks to Gen Z's favorite pandemic hobby.
"Recent balaclava designs from the likes of Stella McCartney all the way through to those now on sale at Zara are fueling the demand among all ages," said Jessica Payne, Pinterest's head of fashion, over email. She noted searches for balaclavas have jumped 230% since the start of November.
The accessory has become a winter favorite, in part because of its convenience in a mask-mandated world. "I think (the trend is) 90% due to the fact that people are more comfortable now having part of their face covered," commented one user on TikTok. "This trend fits so well in the pandemic," another agreed.
But balaclavas were also a mainstay on the runway this year, from the late Virgil Abloh's hallucinatory checkerboard-style take on the mask, to Givenchy's avant garde twist featuring knitted devil horns. Keen-eyed fashionistas may also remember the accessory from Miu Miu's Paris Fashion week show this past March, where it appeared alongside slip dresses and snow boots against the backdrop of Italy's Dolomite mountains. Balaclavas have also featured in recent collections by Moschino, Balmain, Marine Serre and Raf Simmons before trickling down into brands like Urban Outfitters and Weekday.
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