Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Face masks: practical necessity or fashion accessory?

In recent months, face masks have become a vital part of our everyday lives. In the UK, face masks are expected to be worn in a number of indoor settings, including shops, supermarkets and places of worship.

According to official government advice, people should “aim to wear a face covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet”.

As a means of public safety, face masks are incredibly important, but how else can they be used? In this ‘new normal’, have face masks become a new mode of expression? How have celebrities and politicians turned these masks into cult fashion favourites?

Designers have released a number of colourful and pattered face masks

There is an important difference between face masks and face coverings. Surgical masks should be used by healthcare professionals and other healthcare workers as they are most at risk of catching Covid-19. These masks are designed to be disposable. A face mask is something for key workers who are at greater risk than the general public. These people may also wear face shields or visors to lower their work-related risk.

However, face coverings can include any disposable or reusable material which covers the nose and mouth. These include scarves, bandanas, homemade masks and ones you can buy in the shops which may be disposable or reusable. Cloth and fabric-based face coverings can be just as effective as medical-grade masks if worn properly and washed regularly.

In an attempt to normalise mask-wearing and to integrate them into fashion culture, designers have released a number of colourful and patterned face masks.

Celebrities have paved the way for fashionable face masks and face coverings

Since the start of lockdown, French costume and fashion designer Anne Sophie Cochevelou has designed weird and wonderful face masks to inspire others to get creative. From Barbies to butterflies, to Lego blocks, these bespoke pieces are certainly something to behold. In an interview with the BBC, Cochevelou said: “My style is kind of about making people smile and about connecting people together.”

She believes that by witnessing these extravagant face masks, those struggling due to Covid-19 can find a moment of light relief.

Celebrities have paved the way for fashionable face masks and face coverings. Last month, the designer Tory Burch launched the #WearADamnMask challenge to encourage others to wear a face mask in public to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Celebrities including Jennifer Anniston, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling participated in the challenge, posting selfies to their Instagram accounts wearing bright and colourful face masks and face coverings.

Making your own face mask is a simple and easy process

As the caption for her post, Jennifer Anniston wrote: “I understand masks are inconvenient and uncomfortable. But don’t you feel that it’s worse that businesses are shutting down… jobs are being lost… health care workers are hitting absolute exhaustion. And so many lives have been taken by this virus because we aren’t doing enough.”

Major politicians have also been spotted wearing some eye-catching face masks. In July, Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party, wore a face mask with a tartan design which sparked unprecedented sales for the Scottish company Slanj. 20% of the proceeds from the mask went to Shelter Scotland, a charity which helps millions of people fight homelessness. By choosing to wear this face mask, Sturgeon paid homage to Scottish culture, social security and public health.

For those looking for a cheaper, more sustainable option, making your own face mask is a simple and easy process. There are countless DIY websites and YouTube tutorials to help you make a cloth or other fabric-based face covering. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a step-by-step guide for sewn and non-sewn masks. They also offer guidance on how to wash your homemade masks to help slow the spread of Covid-19. If this is to become the ‘new normal’, then reusable masks are essential for a sustainable planet.

As long as they do their job, why not get creative?

Whether you like it or not, face masks are an essential part of our ‘new normal’ but there are ways to make them feel less clinical. To call them a fashion accessory would detract from the importance a wearing one. I would prefer to call them an alternative mode of expression, an opportunity to personalise the experience of wearing a face mask.

Celebrities and politicians alike are embracing the possibility of colourful and unique designs. Of course, the most sustainable masks are those made from home, masks that can be washed and reused endlessly. As long as they do their job, why not get creative? One thing is certain – face masks will be a part of our everyday lives for the foreseeable future.

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