Know Your Terms: Balaclava

Because dropping the lingo is half the fun of dressing well.

You probably know it for its utility on the slopes, or maybe it’s just your preferred method—other than presidential masks—for obscuring your identity when knocking over a bank. But the knitted head covering commonly known as a ski mask and properly named a balaclava actually got its start in the military, when woolen versions were sent to British troops in the Ukrainian town of Balaklava to protect them from the bitter winter cold during the Crimean War. An Anglicizing swap of a “c” for the original “k,” and a moniker was born. Strangely, the appellation wasn’t popularized until a quarter-century later, when it first appeared in writing. One possible explanation? Balaklava wasn’t exactly on folks’ “Favorite Places” lists, seeing at it was the site of the suicidal Charge of the Light Brigade, the botched ride that destroyed two-thirds of the British cavalry and was immortalized in Tennyson’s famous poem. Fortunately, nowadays, the balaclava has a whole lot more to do with keeping your face warm than blindly riding into disaster. Progress: It’s a good thing.

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