The face mask is a preventative against infection and a sign of good citizenship. It may be a must-have accessory.
A typical 100-nanometer-diameter Covid-19 particle is. This is one ten-thousandthof a millimetre. In other words, it is invisible. The virus has changed the way the world looks. It’s gone from empty streets to blue skies without trails, rainbow-colored windows, and even the clothes we wear.
Clothes, not fashion but clothes, have been featured on the front pages of newspapers for several weeks. Our screens are filled with images of NHS workers wearing visors and robes as we watch the political and public health crisis surrounding PPE. This is a huge human drama, and it requires an image that is more vivid and emotionally powerful than any graph.
The world is suddenly surrounded by masks. Our lockdown wardrobes are a sartorial diary of emotions. It was the first run on tracksuits and then the pivot to video-call power dressing. Now, it is in a new gear. My Instagram feed is becoming more minimalistic and incorporating more masks with each passing day. Face masks will play a more central role in the lives of people as they look forward to a post lockdown world.
The latest Lyst Index, a quarterly report that analyses the behaviour of 9 million shoppers each month to track consumer demand, reports a 496% surge in searches for face masks in the last quarter, and names the Off-White arrow logo face mask – retail price $95 (PS75), now inevitably sold out – as the most coveted buy of the moment. Analysts believe that the face mask may surpass the trainer to become the most popular accessory for mass-market fashion.
When it comes to protection against deadly diseases, the phrase “best-selling accessory” is a deeply troubling one. Face masks are more than just their effectiveness, which is why there has been so much debate about them. Disposable gloves are low-profile, but they can still play an important hygiene role, but are not visible in our eyes in the same way as masks. Mask-wearing does not mean doing the right thing. It is about being visible that you are doing it. In British culture, mask-wearing is not common. People find the embarrassment of seeing someone wearing a mask in a supermarket more embarrassing than the self-consciousness that comes with it. A mask can be used to signal to others that you are responsible in the street dance of physical distancing. It is not for the runner who runs past others or the shopper who squeezes every melons while exhaling heavily.
Fashion has always been about being different and fitting in. Wearing a mask can be a way to pledge allegiance and support good citizenship, such as wearing a poppy during the first week in November or a Tshirt in support for the NHS. It also allows you to express yourself. There are high-tech, sleek masks as well as sweet, handmade ones. There are masks with designer logos as well as ones that are high-street and feature slogans. Many of fashion’s most iconic products, such as jeans, running shoes, and sunglasses, have utilitarian roots. The mask, although it is required by law in certain regions, will give new meaning to “must-have” These masks have an opening that allows you to insert a filter and retail at $100. The brand donates five masks for every sale. The website notes that if you or your loved one are sick and this mask is not within your budget, you can contact us to request another mask at no cost.
At times like these, fashion can seem tone deaf. Boohoo quickly launched a line of PS5 fabric masks with slogans like “Eat, Sleep, Isolate, Repeat” or “If this is what you are reading, then you are too close”. However, they were swiftly removed after backlash. Many designers are keen to use their talents and not make a profit out of panic. Christopher Kane, an independent London fashion designer, offered to share unused fabric with anyone who asked. The studio has fulfilled thousands of requests and has now made the pattern available for download. You can use any cotton fabric and ribbon to make your own mask.
Edeline Lee, another London fashion week talent, launched a non-profit mask project, selling packs of three masks at PS24. Lee’s masks, which are not made of cotton, are made of nonwoven spunbound polyester, a fluid-resistant, breathable fabric that is used to make surgical masks. Lee claims that each purchase includes 80 masks for frontline workers, which can be worn over official respirators.
The masks are featured on the Edeline Lee Instagram account in elegant black-white. They were shot by a husband and wife team of model and photographer, and styled with Zoom. It seems that fashion statements and solidarity are not mutually exclusive.