Face Masks: The New Yeezys?
From statement pieces to functional accessories, masks have become the hottest fashion trend of 2021.
What began as a source of protection and solace has transformed into an outlet for creative expression and political activism. So, what does your mask say about you?
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Coat….Shoes….Keys….Wallet….Mask? Covid-19 has undoubtedly altered our daily lives. It has changed how we attend class, go to work, socialize, and perhaps most notably, how we stylize. Masks were originally intended to function purely as a safety measure for the public, a way to “Stop the Spread” to protect both oneself and others. And while it may seem new to many of us, the concept of masking is not a recent precaution. . Medical mask usage dates back to the late 1800s and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, was already popular in several countries today as a way to stay safe during flu season. Yet to the average American, rarely have masks been associated with anything outside the healthcare field. However, just as COVID-19 quickly took the country by storm, so have masks.
Masks were originally simple and functional. As state mandates and store policies required masks to be worn, people scrambled to find or manufacture this small piece of cloth out of anything they could. With DIY mask-making tutorials taking over the internet and coveted N-95’s being sold for astronomical values, people decided to take these necessary precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones Society has evolved since then, and now the plethora of masks available makes them as much of a fashion statement as they are a medical precaution.
London-based fashion designer Kervin Marc commented that mask wearers can be broken into unique groups: medical masks, homemade masks, full apocalyptic masks, and masks that make a statement, such as those for the Black Lives Matter Movement. His take perfectly captures the novel fashion phenomenon — masks have expanded from the one-use blue or white medical masks into an expansive and booming market. If Furman’s signs aren’t enough to remind you of how important and commonplace face masks are during this time of COVID-19, consider this: the latest QYR report stated that mask revenue jumped from $2.86 billion in 2019 to $7.24 billion in 2020. While this boom surely related to the safety benefits of a mask, the impact fashion has had on the market should not be overlooked — 2020 proved function and safety do not need to be plain. In fact, face masks have become the perfect vessel for personal expression.
Fashion and sportswear industries were quick to capitalize on the rising demand for masks. Retail companies ranging from Old Navy to Coach quickly began producing masks for consumers to wear; thereby elevating what had once been a fairly binary market. High end retailers, such as Gucci and Channel, are now charging upwards of $200 for a mask, while Target sells a 5-pack for $14.99. Essentially, what was once purely a functional item has now ballooned into a cash-making market; from solid colors to bright patterns, masks exist everywhere. It’s no surprise that, between April and June 2020, online retailers like Etsy sold about 29 million masks.
Beyond the brand one chooses to sport on their mask, you also have to pick from the thousands of options as to what that mask actually looks like. Matching one's mask to their outfit became a shining trend of 2020, one that is definitely continuing into 2021. Everyone, from celebrities to First Ladies to Furman students, is taking as much care in the mask they pick out as they do their outfits. Masks have also become a canvas for self-expression. They are now notepads to make whatever political or social statement the wearer wishes. Masks were used to express thousands of messages this past year — Naomi Osaka, the Atlanta Dream, and countless NBA teams are perhaps the most memorable amongst statement makers. Now, everyone uses masks to say something without needing to speak at all. So whether it is using a patterned mask to add to a solid colored outfit or a loud and proud social statement, masks have grown from a simple safety measure into a safe fashion statement.