Fashion might be considered today more in terms of being expressions of one’s person rather than as mere statements of the sartorial through which the demands of the aesthetics are served. But fashion also is as functionally purposive a weaving together of elements that have been at least partially devised to cater to such concerns that cannot be ignored. Consider for instance the exploration of clothing as fashion and one cannot deny indeed of style being a secondary stemming out of this basic necessity of life and not the other way round. Accessories and jewelry might indeed conjure up a view of fashion largely gratifying in their statement making sights but even then some pieces of these stylised addons dwell in greater purpose as well. The point therefore being that even in all its fancy prominence in commonplace perception, fashion isn’t merely about the looks nor is it always exclusive to greater assertions of individuality.
Of such stemming from the fashion world that deliver substance first and style later, perhaps alluding to such oft quoted references of fashion being synonymous with comfort instead, are such weather specific clothing that endow upon us protection against the elements of nature. Winter clothing in particular is among the most essential of fashion sensibilities in the immense purpose these warm layers serve to our person. That however does not mean that winter fashion is rooted solely in the requirements of the season, as the colder days of the year deliver indeed some of the most striking trends in fashion. Across such offerings of warmth that shape up also as suave looks are numerous winter staples of the jackets and the sweaters and the scarves and the like but one curious assertion making its quirk unmissable among all these additional layers of the essentials is a certain capped identity of exclusive winter time vibes.
We are talking about the balaclava, a headgear of (disputed) Russian origin that gets as functional as it can in its appearance on the horizon during those days of extreme cold and chill. And while you might not be very familiar with this particular nomenclature of a cap that makes for a rather amusing sight, though in all commonness, across the Indian experience, it’s unlikely that you have ever missed out on the sight of one. Or perhaps even donned one yourself, somewhat unawares of how exactly this particular winter staple could be so despised yet so loved an entity that an entire generation of our countrymen have been forever swearing by it effectiveness in efficiency. This whole evoking of the effective, efficient description might strike as a rather disciplined, almost military way of working for something as humble as a cap but the balaclava sure is no ordinary cap either. Aside from its eminence in thwarting off the most chilling of colds, the balaclava boasts also of an origin in as much distinction.
Emerging from across the terrains of the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War of 1854, this distinctive style of the cap as a knitted headgear was worn by British troops to protect themselves from the biting cold. The term balaclava helmet, or simply balaclava would not however come to be descriptive of the cap until 1881, lending indeed its identity of easily decipherable origins that can be traced to the namesake Ukrainian town even when it is today known also as commonly as the ski mask. In its very design that is made to cover maximum part of the wearer’s face, allowing though also for such ‘laxity’ which means that the style of its wearing determines the level of protection derivable out of its use in all versatility, the balaclava is indeed one of the most conveniently functional means to shield oneself from the ravages of such weather marked by extreme cold. Woolen knits of immense warmth that served well their pursuit in combat and that which later expanded across such areas of use as skiing marked by its occurrence in the coldest of climes, balaclavas have assumed a popularity that stem substantially of their essence in needful beginnings.
These shielders of the extreme cold indeed are vital encounters of wintry days all over the world today but perhaps nowhere more pronounced is the visage of them than in the Indian subcontinent. In their appearance as such items of clothing that present in the masked essence so characteristic of the present times and simultaneously manifest also as a continuing ‘agenda’ in cultural appropriation, balaclavas might be much more than mere winter essentials. But once in India, these humble but hardy defiers of the cold assume an identity that is cultural and social at once but is resident in a very interesting interpretation of what they appear as. Call it by its name of the balaclava and you wouldn’t possibly think of anything beyond what they tend to be. But refer instead to the colloquially Indian jargon of their prominence as monkey caps and you would know for sure the ‘mass phenomenon’ that they are. Famous, or rather infamous, in their monkeyed identity as perhaps a drawing of their typical availability in earth tone colors and in such assertions that almost dim out human facial features are these Indian version of the balaclava that are as integral an existence themselves. Vouched for by the older generation and generally frowned upon by the young in such style of their wearing that strike as distinctively Indian, of making indeed more than full fledged use of the potential they harbour, monkey caps are no less ubiquitous in this part of the world even when they stand out still in another definite assertion. Often accompanied by a small decorative woolen pom pom on the top, the balaclavas of the world assume such a peculiarly Indian character in their emergence as monkey caps that it is no wonder that most of us do not even know much about their origin in and of Soviet ‘ethnicity’.
We sure might be still talking fashion whether it be making the balaclava or the monkey cap reference, though these aren’t mutually exclusive entities per se, but the mention of it within the Indian context is one more conjuring of the warmth of emotions than affording layers of protection. Serving its purpose in all massive assertion is indeed what drives the monkey cap to glory but even within the folds of its such tremendous functionality it also is the queer visage of it coveting all the attention. In its not very aesthetically pleasing overview that conceals the face in almost entirety, endowing upon the wearer therefore an image in hooded, masked anonymity that surely isn’t the most appealing assertion of what one desires to be, the almost repulsive qualms warranted by the mere monkey cap mention can be well understood. But it is along this very spectrum of dwelling whereupon the monkey cap delivers its significance, of being such encompasser of warmth blurring the expanse of the face generally not accorded much consideration in regards to the wintry chill.
For elders therefore, or rather for folks who have long made sense of the dichotomies of style and sensibility in such understanding that leads them to prefer indeed the latter over any pursuit else, and who want their loved ones also to embrace that cosy bliss emanating from the halo of protective warmth, the monkey cap indeed is nothing less than genius an invention, eschewing the use of which therefore would be an act in sacrilege none should be willing to accept. This despite the fact that the monkey cap identity might be one that can be viewed as creepy or even maligning of one’s image, often associated with such explorations of crime and misdeeds that help the accused carry out their exercise in evil in definite masking of themselves. But consider also the effectiveness of the monkey cap, or perhaps the balaclava rather, in keeping the wearer warm and snug in their head and face, involving the ears and mouth as well, and you would be re returning to chart the warm allure of this woolen wonder once you have experienced indeed the luxury of it.
Monkey caps work in retaining the warmth of your body by ensuring that it doesn’t escape from the top of the head, while its material in making means that it can effectively double as ski wear since it doesn’t lead to flogging off the goggles. They also are versatile in that you can wear them in as much exposure as you like, whether it be only the eyes, mouth and nose, or just the front of the face that remain unprotected or its full faced version rolled into a hat to cover the crown of the head or folded down as a collar around the neck, balaclavas indeed offer much scope for foraying into the fashionable folds of fashion. Forage also into the current demand of masking up and balaclavas aka monkey caps add a further dimension of necessity to themselves, literally the proverbial another feather in the cap. Marking therefore its own territory in such fashion feats that speak in its reemergence as a style trend while continuing to harbour as humongous essence along its haloed emergence out of immense humbleness though, the balaclava is very well the coveted fashion item of the season. Ruling therefore the mood of the world at the moment despite its continued ridicule along the fore of the fashionable across the ages is the ordinary balaclava of the world that though has always been the monkey cap maverick that the Indian masses love to hate in all their might.