Face Masks in the Fashion Industry


Ellie Snow, Staff Writer

With the majority of the country reaching its ninth month of the Coronavirus pandemic, Americans are, at last, getting a foothold on the social measures that must be taken during one’s usual day-to-day activities. Perhaps only matched by social distancing, face masks have proven to be one of our society’s biggest shifts, aimed at avoiding the virus’s transmission. Though the recent months have coated the globe with communal anxiety and fear for the future,  human nature has reacted with its own positive twist. People have harnessed glimmers of light in this wave of darkness by making their face masks not just a precautionary measure, but also as a means of expressing themselves through fashion. 

Face mask requirements have stripped schools and businesses around the world of a much needed emotional communication with the lower halves of faces now completely covered. The initial popularity of the standard medical mask, though helpful in slowing the virus’s spread, was rather ineffective in compensating for the expressive tendencies lost with the facial covering from masks. Scituate High School junior Bridget Nicolo saw this beginning medical mask phase as a “blank canvas that I feel like we are now really starting to add onto in our own creative ways.” Nicolo, who around five months into the pandemic started making her own masks, believes that although masks won’t necessarily allow people to express their immediate and ever-changing emotions, they are able to set one’s emotional tone for the day. 

SHS junior Clara Sullivan can attest to Nicolo’s theory, as she bases her daily mask choices on her day’s overall mood: “If I feel like my day will be really energized and exciting, I’ll try to pick a mask with a print or bright color, but if I’m feeling really tired, and I’m not thrilled about my day, I’m more likely to wear my black or basic medical mask,” she explained.  

Though face masks are being incorporated into the fashion industry, many feel they are not completely ready to wholeheartedly count masks as fashion just yet. “Sure I’d say some masks are fashionable, but I still don’t think I can judge a person’s sense of style off of their mask choices, and I think that’s probably because there’s not really that many to choose from just yet,” elaborated Nicolo as she ventured into her thoughts on considering masks fashion statements. 

With the progression of the pandemic, mask fashion finds itself categorized into three main groups: the basic, the artistic, and the activist. Smaller subcategories,  such as designer and dark goth, are starting to gain popularity, but have yet to make enough ground to be considered mainstream fashion. The first of the three categories, the “basics,”  represent medical masks and neutral-colored masks. For some, they are a preferred style, but for most, they are backups worn to work and sporting events, as they are easily replaceable and lacking uniqueness.

The next level, “artistic” masks, are used to meet people’s emotional expression needs. This category encompasses bright colors, printed designs, and handmade masks. These “artistic” masks are the main picks for whenever one feels like making their own fashion statement, primarily in school and while going out.  Finally, one reaches the last category of the “activist”  mask. These masks are found in political campaigns or with words and graphics that express one’s morals and beliefs. They’ve been found primarily in protests and marches, particularly for the recent Black Lives Matter movement, along with making appearances in the recent presidential election. Though they have, so far,  set a tone as brilliant additions to the industry, there is plenty more room for face masks in the world of fashion.  

Society has found a way of making the pandemic a little more bearable, as masks are becoming less of a chore and more of a means of self-expression during unprecedented times. SHS art teacher, Julie Hickey, describes the situation as “an opportunity to explore fashion with our own creativity” and finds herself interested in seeing how mask fashion will progress as time goes on.  However, as masks begin to make their mark in the fashion world, it should not be forgotten that the primary purpose of masks is to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We must always remember to put substance over style, as the evolution of mask fashion is beginning to make headway. It is with a combination of creativity and caution that we will find the perfect balance for mask fashion to thrive.