Last updated on Apr 24, 2020
By Jillian Mehta, Assistant Arts and Entertainment Editor
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced new recommendations that encourage the use of face masks while in public on April 3. In response, some people have started to create and buy their own customized masks as a means of self-expression through fashion.
Wearing face masks as a fashion statement is not a new trend. In Asian countries including South Korea for example, wearing a mask before heading out is an everyday occurrence for some, whether out of fashion or necessity. In American culture, celebrities and street style influencers like Billie Eilish have worn luxury brand face masks as accessories.
Face masks have emerged in luxury fashion such as Gucci and Fendi. Within the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are wearing face masks on a daily basis, so several people found the need for a more stylish option. Jaime Ross, adjunct professor of sustainability in fashion and business of fashion, said this trend is to be expected.
“Trends are often a reflection or manifestation of society, yet often grow out of a very basic need,” she said.
However, this fast-spreading fashion trend could be seen as encouragement to disregard social distancing. While face masks reduce the risk of spread of infection, they do not completely protect people from the contagious virus.
“The fabrics may not be up to the requirements, they don’t feature filters. They are most likely intended for a walk down the street rather than frontline duty,” Ross said.
Some students have recognized the emergence of this new fashion trend. “Especially in the last few years, this is the first time face masks have really been a trend,” Caroline Person, a freshman fashion merchandising major, said.
Ross saw the trend begin two years ago in Paris. “I started to see them from some Paris-based makers at Premiere Classe, the accessories show in Paris in 2018. Attendees were already wearing whimsical ones with cat whiskers, funny faces, flames, metal studs. Now they are all over the internet,” Ross said.
Cassandra Cerbone, a freshman fashion merchandising major, saw the trend arise and initially didn’t see a point to it, but she has since changed her mind.
“Around two months before the COVID outbreak, I saw people wear masks as a trend, they would match them with their outfits. But now, it is a safety measure that people are taking to protect themselves from the virus,” she said.
COVID-19 has taken a toll on the fashion industry by shutting down several businesses and postponing many international fashion weeks and trade shows. This has given brands the opportunity to reopen and support charitable causes. Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Burberry have focused their businesses on making and donating face masks to those on the frontlines of the pandemic. Smaller brands such as Los Angeles Apparel are selling face masks for consumer use at $30 apiece. The trend of designing customized masks has spread to shop sellers on Etsy.com as well, according to Cerbone.
Students have also pitched in to help out; Cerbone, who is working with Amuze, a luxury fashion company, has helped make masks out of dust bags for healthcare workers.
“I’m making them myself, but so many people are making them as well,” she said. “The company has 40,000 dust bags in its warehouse.”
Cerbone’s mom works in healthcare and has made masks for herself and her associates out of fabric they had at home.
This pandemic marks another point in history where elements of fashion have been used for protection.
“From cave times and animal pelts, to metal armor to NASA suits to football helmets, fashion has often served a protective function, be it from elements or physical threats,” Ross said. “Recently it has really come to the forefront as people feel more uncertain via global warming, politics and threats from other countries.”
“I think in today’s day and age, fashion as protection is more prevalent,” Person said. Wearing a face mask today can be seen as more than just an accessory, and it has become a symbol of safety and the current culture of the world.