The balaclava trend is the it fashion accessory this season. While many Muslim women have no problem with the trend, some wish it stoked more advocacy on behalf of hijab-wearing women.

The balaclava’s wide popularity this winter season on runways and Tik Tok alike has some wondering why, despite its similarity to a religious head-covering like a hijab, reactions to the two can be so different.

All winter, balaclavas have swept the internet. On Tik Tok, #balaclava has nearly 158 million views. There are dozens of tutorials on the platform showing how to crochet your own, how to style it for winter fashion and how to make your own from a scarf.

And almost as many people in the comments pointing out and cracking jokes about how similar the style is to hijab — particularly the scarf DIYs.

A balaclava, a practical garment that was used by soldiers during the Crimean War, has become the winter accessory of choice this season.

Feelings about the trend get especially complicated in places like France and Quebec, where laws bar people wearing religious symbols from certain public spaces. Mask mandates issued by the same bodies of government have further complicated the conversation about wearing face-coverings, like a niqab.

Muslim Montreal-based stylist Amira Bahmed has mixed emotions about the trend. On the one hand, trends spread widely and fashion often draws inspiration from different cultures, so it’s nothing out of the ordinary. But on the other hand, she’s seen how double standards with laws related to head covering have affected people in her life.

Montreal-based stylist Amira Bahmed has mixed feelings about this winter's balaclava trend. While hijab is a personal religious choice, Bahmed said it would be nice if this trendy moment could be used to question just why one is treated so differently than the other.

Bahmed told the Star that a friend of hers who wears hijab moved to Quebec from France and went back to school to become a teacher, only for Bill 21 to come into effect and put her plans on hold.

“They can’t put their education (to) work. They are being abused physically or verbally. They are seen as oppression figures,” she said, talking about the impact opinions of hijab have.

While one is done for style and the other is a personal religious choice, Bahmed said it would be nice if this trendy moment could be used to question just why one is treated so differently than the other.

“Can we learn that in the end, it’s the same thing?” she said.

Broadcast journalist Ginella Massa said while some women can sport a trend like the balaclava without repercussion, racialized women who wear hijab are more often subject to harassment.

And Ginella Massa, host of “Canada Tonight with Ginella Massa” on CBC, has similar thoughts. Two celebrity examples immediately came to mind.

“White women like Julia Fox and Kim Kardashian have the luxury of covering up because it’s ‘cool,’ but I wish anyone who celebrates modest fashion also advocate for the women who were doing it long before them, and being chastised for it,” Massa wrote in a message to the Star.

In 2021, Kardashian showed up to the Met Gala entirely covered, face and all, in a fitted black outfit, an effect similar to that of a burqa.

And more recently, Fox was complimented for wearing a head scarf by Vogue France. The magazine was quickly reprimanded by readers, considering France’s ban on religious symbols in public schools and recent vote to bar them from sports games. The country has also outlawed “full veiling” such as wearing a burqa or niqab in certain public spaces.

Kim Kardashian attends the Met Gala celebrating the opening of the "In America: A Lexicon of Fashion" exhibition on Sept. 13, 2021, in New York.

Massa has dealt with harassment about wearing hijab on TV throughout her career as a broadcast journalist. And she noted that racialized women like herself disproportionately face backlash and are targeted while wearing hijab.

“I’m all for women wearing whatever they want, if it makes them feel good and confident. If that means covering from head to toe, power to them! What’s annoying is that when it’s in the name of ‘fashion,’ it’s celebrated, but when it’s spiritual practice, it’s frowned upon, labelled as backward, or oppressive, and in some places even banned,” Massa writes.

“Let’s normalize modest wear, whatever the motivation.”


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