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The hot fashion accessory of 2020? Masks, masks, and more masks

Fashion in the age of COVID-19: sweats, slippers, and a Chanel logo face mask.

The hot fashion accessory of 2020? Masks, masks, and more masks
[Photo: Claudio Lavenia/Getty Images]

These days, when my family ventures into town to pick up groceries, we see people wearing a rainbow of creative face masks. Have you noticed it too?

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The facial coverings are a practical way to stem to spread of COVID-19, but they also reflect our personalities and outlook on life. A man jogs by wearing a stretchy mask that looks like it was made from the same performance material as his shorts. Several people at Trader Joe’s wear masks in fun retro patterns, perhaps cut from outfits they found in the recesses of their closet. On my Instagram feed, people are wearing masks made of everything from repurposed designer hand bags to aprons. In 2020, masks aren’t just medical devices; they’re fashion.

Those of us living through COVID-19 are not the first to treat our face masks as a form of self-expression. According to Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, people have used protective facial gear throughout history to send a message to those around them. In the 1600s, doctors wore masks with long, pointed beak-like extensions at the nose, which could be stuffed with incense, since people believed that the plagues were transmitted through foul smells. “They clearly didn’t work,” Steele says. “But they were terrifying to look at and expressed the horror that that society was experiencing.”

In the 19th century, when scientists discovered germs on dust particles, wealthy women in Paris wore lace veils to protect themselves from particles circulating on the busy streets—particularly during cholera outbreaks. In 1918, when the Spanish flu pandemic coincided with World War I, many 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.

While there is still some cultural resistance to wearing masks in the United States , it has been common for people to wear masks in Asia for decades, partly because the region has been harder hit by recent pandemics, including SARS in 2003, as well as rising rates of air pollution. In these countries, masks do more than offer protection and a form of self-expression. Medical anthropologists say they are a way for wearers to express their civic-mindedness and concern for the well-being of their community.

Now that the United States is facing the gravest public health crisis of the century, citizens are embracing masks. And as with any garment people put on their bodies, they are getting creative with it. People who are trying to express how seriously they take public health might stick to medical masks, but many people also wear masks covered in teddy bears, Hello Kitty, and other cute images—perhaps as a way to reduce their anxiety. Others take the opposite approach, wearing masks that feature goth symbols like skeletons to emphasize the fear at the root of the pandemic.

The widespread wearing of masks is not likely to go away anytime soon. Epidemiologists say that we should be prepared for future pandemics. Moreover, we are likely to face other catastrophes in the era of climate change such as fires that will require masks. Masks may be the fashion for a long time to come.

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Scroll down to see some of the most creative fashion masks that have appeared since the novel coronavirus took hold.

Coronavirus, but make it fashion

Some people are creating masks emblazoned with their favorite designer logos, including jewel-encrusted Chanel and Gucci emblems. To be clear: Those designers don’t actually make face masks. But the DIY masks are more homage than knock-off. “These are people expressing their appreciation for their favorite brands,” says Steele. “These are people saying, ‘We’re not going to let this pandemic destroy our love of fashion.'”

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”Stay Safe &Saucy” @MuseBeautyUSA, where a layer of protection meets a layer of luxury with fashionable designer inspired face mask designed by @feeslays. – SHOP www.musebeautyusa.com Or the link in her bio to find a stylish assortment of personal protective gear. Add a luxurious mink lash to your cart for 20% off your lash with purchase of a mask. Shipping Statewide. – Credits: Face Mask/Mink Lashes @musebeautyusa Hair: @DerickusCrawford – #FightCovidwithFashion #GucciFaceMask #PPE #FashionableFaceMask #personalprotectiveequipment #DesignerFaceMask #instastyle #ChanelMask #LVMask #FaceMask #AuthenticFabrics #DesignerInspired #RepurposedFashionTrends The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its recommendations regarding the general public wearing face masks during the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent COVID-19 pandemic. While it still does not recommend wearing surgical masks or N95 respirators, it now supports "wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission." the CDC website says, is because recent studies indicate that a high number of individuals with the novel coronavirus are asymptomatic and that the virus can be transmitted to others before symptoms become apparent. By wearing a cloth mask, you add an extra layer of protection between yourself and others when you may be speaking, coughing, or sneezing. It is important to note that wearing a mask does not erase the need to adhere to social distancing guidelines. "It is critical to emphasize that maintaining six-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus," the CDC website says. Additionally, according to NPR, as of an April 4 briefing of the coronavirus task force, the White House has urged people to stay at home as much as possible, especially over the next two weeks — including foregoing trips to the grocery store and pharmacy, if possible. These masks are protective measures for others during any essential runs when you absolutely have to leave the house, rathe

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Cultural expression

Some are finding ways to express their love of traditional patterns like Indonesian batik and West African kente cloths.

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4/20 ready

When the coronavirus coincides with 4/20, it makes sense that many people are turning to cannabis to reduce their anxiety. Some have also created fashionable masks that are cannabis-themed.

If the mask fits

Apron brand Hedley and Bennet has pivoted to making masks, transforming the breathable, colorful cotton materials it had on hand to make masks that are designed with an ergonomic fit.

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HUMANS OF COVID_19 ???? Every day my team and I are tagged, texted and emailed photos of people in their @hedleyandbennett face masks all over the country and I just wanted to say thank you for that. It completes the circle and makes the fight worth it to see you protected out there in your mask.???????????? So wherever you are, just know we see you and appreciate the hell out of you ???? #covid_19 #facemasks As a side note, for those of you who haven’t gotten your mask yet, I go live on both accounts every single evening Mon-Fri at 7:30 pm (PST) with face mask and shipping updates so you can tune in and ask questions too. ⚡️ You can also check our contact us page on www.hedleyandbennett.com – there’s a section on there where you can see all updated shipping windows. ????⚡️ Xo- EB

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Embroidery is in

Some people are putting their crafting skills to work in their mask-making endeavors. Some of the most gorgeous masks involve embroidery, often of scenes of nature. It is spring, after all. If you’re inspired by this trend, bear in mind that embroidery creates holes in the fabric which could potentially make the mask less safe, so be sure to include an inner layer made from a more tightly woven fabric.

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Thank you for all your kind words, dears! I just add this text on English) all masks are washable, made of cotton and linen. Available on Etsy ???? Отшили новые маски, однотонные и с вышивкой ???? вышивка почти на всех – с одной стороны) Мухоморные, думаем, будут отлично сочетаться с нашими куртками. Мы по-прежнему работаем в обычном режиме, наша мастерская находится в тихом районе, практически безлюдном. Так что скоро будем готовы вам показать новые модели клетчатых юбок ???? #маскадлялица #маскатканевая #wichwitch #wich_witch #mask #facemask #embroiderymask #linenmask #washablemask

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Do you have a design you want to share with us? Message us on Twitter or email CoDTips@fastcompany.com.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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