According to official guidelines, more and more people are wearing masks – allowing some hints to express themselves in the middle of a pandemic.
While quarantining in her New York apartment recently, fashion journalist Sara Radin ordered a floral gown, matching a face mask made from the same blue printed fabric . Radin, who is recovering from a supposed case of Covid-19, took selfies in the full ensemble and posted it on her Instagram.
“I have been scrolling and will see others posting matching sets, said Radin, a former trend forecaster. “A mask is a must-have accessory, but literally. You must have it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently released new guidelines to protect against coronavirus, advising people to wear cotton masks or cloth facial coverings when going out.
In just one day, a huge market opened up: mask design. Demand related to Corona has even allowed some fashion brands to reopen their factories, provide much-needed supplies and, for some, express themselves in the age of Coronavirus.
Concern over the spread of coronavirus for months hasn’t stopped Marie Lodi and her husband from exercising their love of kitsch.
“Our masks are really flamboyant and have hot pink tie-dye and Guy Fieri flames on them,” says Lodi, a fashion writer and host of Fishnet Flix, a podcast about costume design. “Because we said if we are living in a pandemic and have to wear masks, then we might as well have some fun.”
Matrushka’s $10 cotton masks, constructed out of fabric scraps from its couture studio, are colorful creations with aliens and cartoon cats front and center. “If having a cool non-medical grade mask with cats or unicorns or sharks on it makes things less scary [for all of us], I’m happy,” says Laura Howe, the brand’s owner and designer. “I don’t like the idea of us all looking the same: sad, scared, behind the same kind of mask.”
Men’s sporting gear retailer Ball and Buck is selling a camo print face mask. Maison Modulare has sold out of their French lace mask, a more expensive item priced at $60. Los Angeles Apparel, the successor to American Apparel, is offering FACEMASK3, a three-pack of masks made of French Terry fabric, available in nine colors.
From a public-health perspective, it doesn’t matter what your face mask looks like, where you got it, or how you made it; wearing a functional one is all that matters. That said, this is the face we’re talking about — our primary mode of self-expression. It’s the tool we use to communicate on every level, in real life and online. It’s what we use to identify one another, and what computers use to identify us. And now it has to be covered. It’s natural to want to find a work-around. Some attempts may be tactless, but for a lot of people, wearing a cute face mask can be one small (and safe) way to make a terrible situation slightly less terrible — to feel like an individual person, and not just a potential vector of disease.
On an average day, you can see Raines coming from a mile away. Her hair and makeup is always colorful and bright; her false eyelashes are endless; and she wears diamond studs in her upper and lower lip, plus a few on her nose. A face mask covers “all the things that make me feel like Shirley,” she said. But she knows she has to wear one when handing out food and supplies to the homeless, which she now does from her car. One of her followers, the Emmy Award–winning costume designer Perry Meek, provided a timeless showbiz solution: Just bedazzle it.
“Lord, it was so cute,” said Raines, still beside herself over her new, blinged-out face mask, which she wears over a second mask for ample protection. “We’re still going to come out here and help our community, but why can’t we bring some style and flavor to it? Self-expression has been something that has helped me through my darkest hours. No matter what happens, that’s something about me that will never change.”
For many artistically inclined New Yorkers, creating a good-looking mask for themselves, and eventually their friends and others, is an instinctive act. They weren’t trying to impress anyone; they just wanted to leave the house, and what they made happened to be an extension of their personal brand.
Could the mask trend continue when we stop social distancing and Covid-19 is less of a threat?
Face masks are personal, and your relationship to them depends so much on context. They still feel relatively new and unfamiliar in America, but in many Asian countries, wearing a face mask is seen as both a civic duty and a routine part of life. People wear them for health reasons, but also to protect themselves from pollution and the sun.
“Whether it will take off as a fashion trend here in the US depends on whether stigma around wearing a mask can be changed,” says Christine Wu, a fashion anthropologist and former lecturer at the Parsons School of Design.
“We hold on to memories through the clothing we wear,” adds fashion writer Gabriela Herstik. “The collective trauma of Covid will be ingrained, and I think a lot of us are going to keep wearing our masks when this is over, like a safety blanket.”
Rachel Sanoff, Coronavirus couture: the rise of the $60 designer face mask, https://www.theguardian.com/
Emilia Petrarca, What Does Your Face Mask Say About You?, https://www.thecut.com/