Pandemic Transforms Masks From Functional to High Fashion

Students+and+teachers+use+masks+to+express+themselves.+Clockwise+from+top+left%3A+Ms.+Haley%27s+favorite+mask+is+her+LGBTQ%2B+Pride+flag.+Henry+shows+off+his+Star+Wars+stan+with+a+home+made+mask.+Ms.+Barry+is+all+about+the+bling.+Momo+layers+up+with+cute+polkadots+over+a+standard+surgical+mask.+Ms.+U%27Halie+likes+to+show+school+spirit+with+her+mask.

Students and teachers use masks to express themselves. Top row from left: Ms. Haley’s favorite mask is her LGBTQ+ Pride flag. Henry shows off his Star Wars stan with a home made mask. Ms. Barry is all about the bling. Bottom row from left: Momo layers up with cute polkadots over a standard surgical mask. Ms. U’Halie likes to show school spirit with her mask. Gracie T. shows support for the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Almost as soon as masks were introduced a year ago, people started using them to make fashion statements and more. While some opt for a standard reusable baby blue or black, others look for snazzy styles or use their masks to make a statement.

  “Masks have definitely become part of fashion in this pandemic,” said theatre teacher Sarah Barry.

While safety and comfort are important, Ms. Barry also wanted to make sure to express her personal style. Knowing she would have to wear the mask all day, she ordered a bunch that fit well over her mouth and nose, not be too tight on the ears, have a decent degree of breathability, and most importantly, had a cute design.

“My sparkle mask was the first one I bought,” said Barry. “I’m all about the bling. It’s a great mask because it fits well, and the fabric is light, so it’s easy to breathe, and then it’s so pretty.” 

This definitely goes with Ms. Barry’s personal style, as her motto this year is “Don’t ever let anyone dull your sparkle.” 

“I know it may seem kind of silly, but I LOVE sparkly things, so it made sense to me that I get a sparkly mask! My other masks have colors and patterns that reflect things I love, like Disney and leopard print.”

Barry is a big believer in expressing yourself through clothing.

“In theater, we talk a lot about how costume choices tell a lot about a character. Color, texture, and pattern can reflect personality and mood.”

History teacher Stephanie Haley’s son Brick (7) thinks we’ll have masks for a while; he says the masks are fashion now. Haley has used her masks to express the things she cares about.  

 “I had several masks already but made a few deliberate history/social studies purchases. I wanted to highlight issues close to my heart and mind,” said Ms. Haley. 

She purchased a “We the people” mask that looks like the Constitution, a “VOTE” mask, an LGBTQIA+ mask with the pride rainbow, a monarch butterfly mask, a fish mask, and a mask with dragonflies.

 “Ms. Haley is torn between her two favorite masks. One is a Halloween mask with werewolf teeth. “It’s fun and so comfortable,” she said. And the other is her pride mask. “I am proud to be a gay American, and I want students to see me and feel comfortable with who they are.”  

Haley tries to mix up the masks each day both for style and safety purposes. Her clear favorites are social studies and bugs. 

Meanwhile, ESOL teacher Tyrun U’Halie bought her first set of masks after noticing a nice floral pattern her friend wore. The flowery pattern feels peaceful, but she also wears her LMS school masks because she wants to show her school pride.

“The trends I see are the different ways that the mask covers people’s faces and the designs,” remarked U’Halie

When it comes to masks, though, this is not U’Halie’s first experience.

“When I lived in Japan, I had to make mask-wearing part of my life because it was part of the culture. So it doesn’t bother me, and now and in the future I’ll be an avid mask wearer,” she said. 

U’Halie looks for a good price, but also quality and comfort when choosing a mask. 

One approach that keeps the price down is to make your own. Choral director Kimberly Dawson created DIY masks at home, customizing as needed.

“I sew my own masks, so I started with materials I already had because there was a big fabric and elastic shortage at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Ms. Dawson.

As might be expected, the masks reflect a little of her personality. 

“Most of my masks are made from music-themed fabrics,” she explained. “I also have some Washington Nationals masks, some made of fun but subtle batik patterns, and I bought a silk mask for my daughter’s wedding.”

Dawson makes all of her masks with three layers of fabric and is careful about the thread count of the fabric she uses.

“They have a “duckbill” shape, so you don’t inhale the mask every time you take a breath. It keeps my regular mask from getting wet, and it helps me feel less claustrophobic,” she said 

Even the fashion industry has gotten on board with this indispensable accessory.

“Let’s face it, face masks have become an accessory, an accessory of fashion, which we have to wear every single day and everywhere,” stated Runway Magazine in the article “Designer Face Mask – trend 2021.”  

They go on to say, “We try to find a face mask to match our wardrobe. Just plain black or white, or chirurgical blue is no longer a solution. We want to be beautiful and stylish, especially if half of our face is covered, so it’s the first thing other people see.”   

Vogue Magazine took note of the trend, pointing out that Etsy was doing a brisk business in mask sales. “Between April 4 and 6, people searched for masks on the site an average of nine times per second, totaling more than two million searches. Supply on Etsy has also exploded, as the number of mask sellers on the site increased fivefold in the last week of March and the first week of April.”

Whatever the fashion statement, it is important to make sure that we are using the mask correctly. America’s ER, a medical center in Texas, offered these instructions on proper mask wearing techniques on their website. 

  • Completely cover both your mouth and your nose. 
  • Squeeze the bridge of the nose to ensure the mask molds to your face. 
  • Don’t touch the mask with your hands after you have it on.

Narayana Health, an international health care company, also offered this tip: 

  • Cloth masks should be washed properly and frequently and left to hang and air dry.