Written by Anna P. Kambhampaty and Danya Issawi
When Sagal Jama, a scholar and content material creator in Toronto, seen that balaclavas had been turning into a preferred winter accent, she was ecstatic. “Because the seasons change and traits additionally change, I really feel like I’ve to pressure my outfits to the situations of carrying a hijab and my degree of modesty,” she mentioned.
She would usually should make changes when attempting to style trends that didn’t at all times work together with her hijab, however with the balaclava she was capable of comfortably take part, merely “buying the merchandise and slipping it on the best way it’s.”
Jama, 21, purchased 5 balaclavas, and he or she posted movies and pictures of herself carrying them on her Instagram and TikTok accounts. However she realized that the pattern additionally introduced with it some critical points.
“You may take off a balaclava and abandon the pattern, however race, faith and gender are issues that anyone can’t simply get up and abandon,” she mentioned. “Individuals are capable of put on a balaclava and be perceived as stylish or cool, however a hijab might be seen as an emblem of oppression or political.”
This season, the balaclava, a hood that covers the top and neck, has taken off as a clothes staple. A number of manufacturers and department shops have began promoting them in varied colours, silhouettes and supplies, they usually’ve inundated social feeds.
Some TikTok creators have devoted their profiles to crocheting elaborate and ornate variations of the accent, and the “balaclava” hashtag has greater than 121 million views on the app. Lirika Matoshi, a 25-year-old designer in New York who has been making hand-knit balaclavas for round a yr, mentioned that she not too long ago seen her gross sales choose up sharply.
“They didn’t promote as a lot, to start with,” Matoshi mentioned. A couple of months in the past, nevertheless, “they simply began promoting method an excessive amount of,” she added. “Individuals had been loving them.”
The balaclava resembles a hijab, a non secular scarf worn by Muslim women. Headscarves are sometimes worn to keep up modesty or function spiritual symbols however can maintain completely different meanings relying on the wearer. Carrying a hijab is usually a deeply private expertise.
Headscarves are additionally present in different religions and cultures. And whereas folks carrying balaclavas as we speak are perceived as modern, Muslim ladies carrying hijabs are sometimes discriminated against or are seen as backward.
A number of areas within the Western world have positioned restrictions on hijabs lately. In 2019, Quebec handed a regulation that barred lecturers, cops and different public sector employees from carrying spiritual symbols, together with hijabs, whereas at work. Final yr, France voted to ban minors from carrying hijabs in public areas, a restriction that was already in place for public faculties.
“White individuals are thought of unthreatening within the U.S. and Western Europe, and so they’re given far more freedom to put on no matter they want,” mentioned Anna Piela, writer of “Carrying the Niqab” and a visiting scholar on the Division of Non secular Research at Northwestern College. “Within the context of the balaclava fad, it’s not simply whiteness — it’s the white femininity that’s learn as nonthreatening.” Piela added that although the balaclava pattern has been embraced by folks of all racial backgrounds, “it’s the whiteness of some wearers that makes it mainstream, typical.”
Maliha Fairooz, a graduate scholar in New York Metropolis, seen that balaclavas had been throughout her TikTok feed. In December, after seeing a white lady submit a video in a balaclava garner 1000’s of likes on the platform, Fairooz, 28, responded in a video of her personal, expressing how folks carrying the garment might be treated differently relying on their race.
In an interview, Fairooz mentioned that she discovered it ironic that folks usually view the hijab as backward or as a method to management ladies whereas “we’ve argued that we’re selecting to put on this, however then with the balaclava, nobody’s saying, ‘You’re being oppressed to cowl your hair.’” She added: “The colour of your pores and skin dictates how folks will understand you. Whether or not it’s cool and edgy, or whether or not it’s backward.”
Whereas carrying her hijab in public, Fairooz mentioned that she has skilled hate crimes on a number of events. She was kicked at a practice station as soon as, and one other time, struck within the stomach whereas on her method to lunch. “I don’t know if folks carrying balaclavas expertise this stuff,” she mentioned.
This phenomenon — of a garment or spiritual apparel being modern when nonmarginalized teams put on it whereas concurrently placing an oppressed group of individuals vulnerable to being persecuted — will not be new. In 2018, Gucci confirmed a brilliant blue turban worn by white fashions throughout Milan Fashion Week. The turban had a retail worth of almost $800 and was marketed as “prepared to show heads whereas retaining you in consolation in addition to trademark model.”
Elizabeth Bucar, a professor of faith at Northeastern College and the writer of “Pious Vogue,” mentioned that it was “marketed as an emblem of cosmopolitan chicness, even whereas Sikhs who put on turbans are topic to violence.”
With the balaclava pattern as we speak, and as modest trend turns into extra part of mainstream trend, Bucar added: “Muslim ladies who cowl their heads proceed to face discrimination and harassment. Reputation of a garment hasn’t eradicated gendered Islamophobia.”
However some veiled Muslim ladies view the pattern as a possible avenue towards a extra conscious and empathic understanding of the hijab.
Tayah Jabara, a 20-year-old content material creator, hopes the pattern may also help folks understand the hijab. In a TikTok video, she mentioned that she basically welcomed the balaclava fad, so long as nonveiled balaclava wearers stored one factor in thoughts: In the event that they really feel heat, snug, safe or cute of their knitted headscarves, she hoped they’d perceive she feels the identical whereas carrying her hijab.
“I believe when males or non-Muslim ladies or nonveiling folks see hijabs, they see it as some type of bizarre, medieval punishment,” Jabara mentioned in an interview. “When individuals are into traits that occur to align with requirements of the hijab, I’m all for it, as a result of for my part, I would like my modesty to be seen as a trendy possibility.”
Matoshi, whose mom wears a hijab, has designed ornate balaclavas adorned with jewels, feathers and knit teddy bears. She hopes her creations may also help bolster a larger understanding of headscarves and supply one other pathway to decorate for individuals who do select to cowl their hair.
“I do know ladies who put on hijabs get judged so much in society,” she mentioned. “My mom has a hijab. I’m pleased that ladies who’ve a hijab are discovering one thing enjoyable and artistic to put on. Possibly it might be a method for folks to see it as a superb factor.”
Nonetheless, it stays a nuanced situation. Leah Vernon, a 34-year-old content material creator who has been carrying a hijab since she was 7, mentioned that she has been criticized for her option to put on a headband, and that it has prevented her from getting jobs.
To see the balaclava grow to be so common now invokes “a sense of ‘Effectively, rattling, it’s so easy to put on it as a dressing up,’” she mentioned. “So to simply put it on and take it off, I positively really feel some sort of slight betrayal.”
(This text initially appeared in The New York Occasions.)