Best balaclavas: the It-accessory to be seen in this winter

Maxmara AW22, Proenza Schouler AW22, Altuzarra AW22 (Imaxtree)
Maxmara AW22, Proenza Schouler AW22, Altuzarra AW22 (Imaxtree)

It is, once again, damn cold. And, with severe weather warnings remaining in place until next week, it’s likely those not cosied up WFH will be braving the ear- and nose-frosting commutes for the foreseeable.

If you haven’t already succumbed to its cool and cosy charms, might I suggest the balaclava as the ideal way to make the commute more bearable? They’re chicer than you might first think.

First used by British troops in the Crimean War, the balaclava (named after a key battle in the Ukrainian city of Balaclava in 1854), has ebbed and flowed in popularity since the 1800s, with adoption by bank robbers and revolutionary movements having largely kept the headgear on the fringes of fashion. Until recently, that is.

Balaclavas from alpaca wool (Shrimps)
Balaclavas from alpaca wool (Shrimps)

Early last year, the humble balaclava exploded on TikTok, where the hashtag now has an impressive 454.8 million views, with craft and DIY iterations initially popular among its Gen Z audience. It wasn’t long before bonnets, hoods, and balaclavas cropped up on the runways, with everyone from Maxmara to Altuzarra and Proenza Schouler offering interpretations as part of their autumn/winter 22 collections.

Henrik Lischke, commerce writer at British Vogue, was an early adopter, wearing an orange crochet balaclava to brave the -16°C climes at the AW22 shows in New York back in February.

“My friend made a ’70s-inspired crochet one for me and it saved me from the blistering cold,” says Lischke, who’d had his eye on hooded headgear since he’d spotted them in Raf Simons AW18 collection. “They keep you warm, they make you look like an adorable egg, and are the quick-fix for any bad hair day.”

 (Damson Madder)
(Damson Madder)

Google searches have increased 60 per cent in the last two years and on shopping app LTK, balaclavas are up 4,000 per cent year-on-year. “It’s by far our fastest-selling accessory this winter,” says Emma Hill, founder of sustainable London label Damson Madder, which added three colourful styles to its range for winter. “We’ve been a struggling to keep them in stock!”

Recycled cashmere knitted hood (Raey)
Recycled cashmere knitted hood (Raey)

Shrimps has been similarly playful in its approach, with cherry and horse prints and rose embellishment adorning its alpaca-knit balaclavas, as has Loewe, whose striped iterations come with heart-shaped face cutouts.

If you’re looking for something more understated though, the high street is awash with simple colour-block options; Weekday, Market, H&M, and Monki all have hoods in soft cashmere blends.

Cashmere knitted hood (& Other Stories)
Cashmere knitted hood (& Other Stories)

For something more elevated, try the recycled-cashmere grey-knit hood from Matches’ own brand, Raey (£195; shop here) or new UK arrival Gobi, which does simple bonnets in super-soft Mongolian cashmere.

In terms of styling, cashmere blends and muted tones in the looser-fit hood styles are the most versatile and easily added to your wardrobe. They work perfectly with puffers, mittens, and trainers, but layer your haute hood under a chunky scarf and wear it with a long wool coat, jeans, and heeled boots for a sharper take on the trend.

Shop the best balaclavas:

 (Gobi cashmere)
(Gobi cashmere)

Gobi cashmere bonnet, £65; shop here

 (Samsøe Samsøe)
(Samsøe Samsøe)

H&M knit balaclava, now £8; shop here

 (Monki)
(Monki)

Monki knit balaclava, £18; shop here

 (Simone Rocha)
(Simone Rocha)

Simone Rocha crystal-embellished wool blend balaclava, now £276; shop here

 (Loewe)
(Loewe)

Loewe heart motif balaclava, £225; shop here

 (& Other Stories)
(& Other Stories)

& Other Stories cashmere knit hood, £45; shop here

 (Loeffler Randall)
(Loeffler Randall)

Loeffler Randall cashmere balaclava, £130; shop here

 (SAMSOE)
(SAMSOE)

Samsøe Samsøe fluffy alpaca-blend balaclava, now £45; shop here

 (ARKET)
(ARKET)

Arket mohair-blend pink hood, now £28; shop here

 (Jakke London)
(Jakke London)

Jakke recycled polyester blend balaclava, £60; shop here

 (Dior)
(Dior)

Dior wool and cashmere balaclava, £520; shop here