At 11 years old, Gallatin first-year Milenka Bermanova was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that caused their hair to fall out. Fashion has helped restore their confidence, with one piece in particular serving as their own personal armor: a handmade chainmail headpiece.
“The medium of chainmail was originally used for armor, but my chainmail serves as emotional armor,” Bermanova said.
Losing their hair at such a young age was extremely difficult, they explained. “It wasn’t just hair, it was part of my identity.”
The headpiece was inspired by a short undercut hairstyle that they liked and wanted to replicate, but chainmail creation turned out to be a long process. They had to use two sets of pliers to open and close each and every metal ring that comprises the headpiece, making sure that all the rings were in the correct position. Bermanova tried to teach me, and I struggled trying to maintain the correct pattern. It took them over 40 hours over the course of two months to make the headpiece that they use almost daily.
Bermanova learned to make chainmail pieces through an alumni of their high school, Sky Cubacub, a designer and artist based in Chicago. Cubacub became more than their mentor, Bermanova calls them a close friend and queer parent.
“The chainmail was amazing for me because it allowed me to share a vulnerable part of myself with the world while giving me a sense of control with how people perceived it and me,” they said.
Bermanova said that people tend to be enthralled by the piece. They gets stopped on the street by random people almost every day with compliments and questions on where they got it.
“It still serves as emotional armor,” they said. “Even though I no longer need it to go out without a wig (I never wear wigs unless I’m in drag), wearing it gives me a boost of confidence and sense that I can tackle the world.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 19 print edition. Email Theodore Simon Ravago at [email protected]