2020: The Year of the Mask
The year 2020 has been full of twists, turns, and to be frank, chaos. A lot of things have come to light that we never thought would be our reality. The threat of a third World War, the President being impeached, the attack of the murder hornets, massive wildfires, a global pandemic are just a few highlights. Another product of 2020 is the wearing of masks due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that masks are likely to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 between infected and noninfected individuals. Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University shares “I personally think that face masks are a key component of the non-pharmaceutical arsenal we have to combat COVID-19…”. Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, the chief of hospital medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, adds “Masks can protect against any infectious illness that may be spread by droplets. For example, the flu, pertussis (whooping cough), or pneumonia.”
The CDC recommends wearing masks in public when unable to social distance. Masks are now required for entry in retail stores, offices, and other indoor spaces. The general public also has been advised to wear masks made of cloth rather than N95s or surgical masks that should be reserved for healthcare and essential workers who need them the most.
As people moved away from wearing medical-grade maks, people have had to find other ways to get their hands on a mask, flocking to Etsy to purchase handmade ones or making their own. Handmade masks are not only functional but also visually appealing, as they tend to be made out of fabric with trendy patterns and colors.
Masks are now viewed not only as preventative measures to minimize infection but also as indicators of wealth and style. The fashion industry has now incorporated these accessories into their catalogs, some brands charging hundreds of dollars for a mask. As a result, the wearing of a mask isn’t just about protecting yourself and others but also can carry the connotation of luxury and high status.
Masks on the Runway?
Masks have become a vital part of our safety and wardrobe today, as many states, institutions, and businesses require face masks for entry. Many have responded to the CDC’s advice quickly, cloth masks while completing daily tasks and responsibilities in public spaces.
Cloth masks have become available online and in retail stores, offering customers sustainable coverings that feature aesthetically pleasing designs. Similar to the average American, the fashion industry has embraced the mask mandate as well, creating fashionable masks that create a chic look for customers and models. Brands from Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Balenciaga to Louis Vuitton have released designer face masks that scream ‘ready for the runway’. However, the price for these masks is relatively high for the average individual. Considering that 40 million Americans have become unemployed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, could these fashion masks come off as insensitive and unattainable?
Pricey Personal Protective Equipment
In September, Louis Vuitton announced its very own face shield equipped with golden studs and a monogrammed headband. The face shield can transition from day to night and provides wearers with protection from the sun. Oh, and did I mention it costs almost $1000? The CDC has not determined the level of protection that face shields provide to wearers and does not recommend the use of face shields as a substitute for masks.
Pictured above: Louis Vuitton’s pricey face shield seen on a model.
While the quality and brand of designer masks and face shields may constitute their high prices, the question emerges as to who these products are geared towards. Does the average individual even know anyone who could afford a mask priced this high? What kind of message is Louis Vuitton sending by releasing PPE priced this high during an unprecedented health and wealth crisis?
However, the elite brand has made humanitarian efforts as well. In April, when the United States experienced a personal protective equipment shortage, Louis Vuitton and other designers around the world teamed up to make PPE to support health care workers fighting on front lines. The company stated that it had repurposed several of its workshops across France to “produce hundreds of thousands of non-surgical face masks” for health care workers.
The combination of medical accessories and fashion is a bit odd to say the least but fashionable masks also allow wearers to express themselves and promote safety at the same time. Chioma Nnadi, a fashion news director at Vogue, has a positive view on fashion masks, stating, “Personally, I’ve leaned into it. I’ve found myself buying masks because they’re pretty, just like anything else. If the aim is to get people to wear masks, why not make them nice to look at?”.
Viewing masks as an essential fashion accessory may also encourage those opposed to wearing masks to finally put one on. Designer companies are now creating fashionable masks that people want to wear, rather than have to wear. The prevalence of fashion masks thus provides individuals with an opportunity to make a bold statement and to protect others in style.
The emergence of the second wave of the Coronavirus and the lack of vaccine means we can expect to be wearing masks for quite some time. So why not purchase or make a mask that you like? As masks have become both essential and trendy accessories, it is unlikely that masks will stop becoming fashion items. Now that masks have become the finishing touch to complete our outfits, it is not uncommon or a bad thing to search for masks that are pleasing to the eye.
While it may be a bit impractical to wear a $1000 mask, what is important is that you wear any kind of mask to protect not only yourself but your loved ones and the community as a whole.