Are face masks the U.S.’s latest fashion statement?

With the coronavirus pandemic, face masks are quickly becoming the hot new fashion item of the season. (Photo illustration by Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

At the 2020 Grammy Awards, Billie Eilish wore an oversized black and green button-down, matching bottoms and a thin face mask designed by Gucci. Back in January, she was ahead of the times, but now, masks are becoming more ubiquitous in the United States. 

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that everyone should wear some sort of cloth face covering when they leave the house in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. So, slowly but surely, Americans have been breaking out masks and fashioning their own out of bandanas, scarves and other materials found around their homes.

Some clothing designers are working to increase mask production for health care workers, who have a shortage of many of the materials necessary to do their jobs safely. In March, Chanel produced face masks and gowns in France. More recently, Christian Siriano and his otherwise out-of-work sewing team paired up with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make over 5,000 masks for the metropolitan area. 

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Similarly, Alice and Olivia, a clothing company based in New York City, is creating masks to donate to hospitals. This week it released “Staceface,” a protective face mask. For $10, you can pre-order the mask, and for every mask sold, one will be donated to a community in need. However, the disclaimer on the page states this is not a replacement for medical-grade masks, and these masks won’t ship out until at least April 29.

The brand Matrushka has also started selling $10 masks, but these aren’t branded as medical masks either. Using fabric scraps, the masks are made to match the style of some of their current, zany items, designed with cats, sharks and art. This company is choosing to donate masks to Veterans Affairs hospital employees, park rangers and other essential services.

Other brands are using the CDC’s recommendation as an opportunity to capitalize on a new market of “couture” masks. One example is from Lauren Moshi, a small Los Angeles-based clothing company. The brand has a new bestseller in the midst of the pandemic: the Vira mask. Featured on the home page as one of the most popular items, the mask comes in four different designs ranging from $36 to $40. Even Vogmask, a company dedicated to creating fashionable masks that reduce poor air quality in the lungs, sells them for less: $33. 

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After the CDC’s announcement, Etsy’s CEO, Josh Silverman, encouraged sellers to start making masks, as there would be increased demand. And while most are sold for $10, some are upward of $50. 

Face masks seem to be the latest and hottest spring fashion item, but all this comes at an increasingly confusing time. Some people can’t afford to feed their families while others spend $60 on designer masks. These lavish purchases seem irresponsible at a time like this — yet they’re sold out. 

It will be interesting to see how the trend fares in the United States over the course of the pandemic and beyond. Will it continue to rise as a means of self-expression? Or will it fall to the wayside when people get the chance to breathe in fresh, disease-less air? And more broadly, will this pandemic change the fashion landscape altogether as people become increasingly cautious of contagions?

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