Face Mask Fashions Are As Old As Fashion Itself

There’s simply nothing new about wearing fashionable masks.

Historically masks have been used to hide faces for many reasons — religious to the frivolous… read masqued balls and flirtatious moves with fans in front of faces. And of course, masks are used for clinical reasons.

Those who take the trouble to make their pandemic-mandated masks look good and match their clothes and reflect their inner selves are merely doing something that the world has done for centuries.

And those who don’t think masks ought to look good, are the other people.

There’s an ancient history to masks and there’s a modern history to masks. Like any fashion, evidently. And besides, masks in history can be a comforting topic of cocktail conversation — the associated trivia is compelling.

It all started over 400 years ago. (These are masks we discuss, not veils to hide and enhance the allure of women, nor visors used by medieval knights in armour.) Valerie Steele, chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City was recently quoted as saying, “People have used fashion face masks throughout history, to send a symbolic message to those around them.”

In the 1600s, doctors wore face masks with long, pointed beak-like extensions at the nose. Since people believed that the plague was transmitted through foul smells, those fashion masks were stuffed with incense. “Function wise, they didn’t work,” Steele said. “But, message wise, they were terrifying to look at. These fashion face masks were a clear expression of the horrors that the world was experiencing.”

And then in the 19th century, after scientists discovered germs on dust particles, wealthy women in Paris brought fashion to face and wore lace veils to protect themselves from particles circulating on the busy streets.

In 1918, when the Spanish flu pandemic happened during World War I, Americans wore masks as a symbol of their patriotism and their effort to curb the spread of the disease to protect soldiers who were about to enter the battlefield. Pity that patriotism took a different turn lately.

And now that the world is wearing masks, it is a natural part of history that masks should be fashionable.

If all fashion is also a statement, then modern masks are a combination of apparel, accessory and billboard.

Masks now sport everything from triple-stitched, embroidered satin, lycra and lame sometimes with paisley and often not, to presidential seals and brand logos, down to jewel encrusted works of Gucci and Chanel and the other guy.

Nothing like diamonds to block the particles of coronavirus.

But as fibre2fashion.com (from where all the Steele comments are quoted… and FastCompany but they refer back to fibre…) has it, these designers don’t make face masks.

These masks are more homage than knock-off. “These are people expressing their appreciation for their favourite brands,” says Steele. “These are people saying, ‘We’re not going to let this pandemic destroy our love of fashion.’”

And then designs are joyously ethnic — from obviously Rajasthani patterns to Zulu and zebra inspired stripes to leopards and swatches of pastels, to Indonesian batik and West African kente cloths.

And unavoidably, humour. Girls wearing gorilla motifs or masks that are the equivalent of a fake nose and glasses, such as the one this girl was pranked into wearing.

Everyone is fashionable.

According to the BBC, President of Slovakia Zuzana Caputova received praise online for her matching mask ensemble which was dubbed by one social media user as “modern day corona”. In this picture published on the BBC website, the President looks like a fashion icon among the dreary others.

Predictably, face masks have hit the ramps of fashion capitals. This video wraps it up pretty well.

To quote “fibre2…”, masks are not going away anytime soon. The widespread wearing of face masks is not likely to go away anytime soon. Epidemiologists say that we should be prepared for future pandemics. Similarly, fashion experts also say that we should prepare for massive changes in fashion.

Moreover, we are likely to face other catastrophes in the era of climate change, such as fires and pollution that will require protective and yet, fashionable face masks. Soon, face masks might become the most wanted fashion accessories, for a long time to come.

With the US government saying that masks are no longer needed for those who are fully vaccinated, that might not be a totally accurate prediction. But still, we learn to enjoy diversity in creativity while it lasts.

And finally, do you want to make a mask while waiting for the world to open up?

Here’s one from a pioneer in mask making. https://collinastrada.com/pages/collina-strada-face-masks

Pic: luxebook.in, BBC and public sources

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