Fashion can be influenced by many factors, such as the consumers’ interests and needs, the context of our society, our economy, and our politics. You can open a history book and estimate the time period based on the clothes of the illustrations. Whether it is a bell-shaped pastel corset from the Rococo times in France or a draped seamless white gown from the Ancient Greeks, fashion has always been woven into humanity, illustrating what is going around us.
In the times of a global pandemic, a specific accessory became a must-have for people across the world regardless of age, gender, and spiritual belief. It is that one object that will be in the history books in the future, representing these times visually: the face mask. An object designed to protect the face and mouth from the transmission of the coronavirus that, in a matter of days, became part of our look when we have to go out.
And of course, as with many other fashion matters, the face mask diversified into an accessory available in different materials, sizes, and price points. But most importantly, it has become a channel of expression and communication, a way to express who we are and what we believe in. Humans are political beings, so face masks became political too. This is why, this article will show the most political fashion masks so far from the coronavirus pandemic.
Black Lives Matter
In the middle of an uncertain scenario during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world faced another global challenge: systemic racism as an issue that recovered mainstream attention after the cruel murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
Many people across the United States and in many different parts of the world protested against systemic racism and police brutality. The rise of an international social movement brought people together with the core message of Black lives matter.
Folks of different ages showed their frustration, anger, fear, and desperation asking for a significant change against social injustice.
And as the coronavirus cases were rising, with no vaccine and not a lot of understanding on the nature of the deadly virus, most protestors went out to the streets using face masks to protect themselves from the virus and leveraged the visibility of these protective objects to share messages about the racial issue. With lots of media attention and the opportunity to make viral posts on social media, black face masks became a huge element during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, communicating a critical political message in a face-covering object. These masks are still used in protests, rallies, and any social events where people continue to show their desperation against this important issue.
Lady Gaga’s multiple face masks at the VMA’s 2020
It was the summer of 2020 in a politically divided country with many people being skeptical about the use of face masks. Lady Gaga attended the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards, hesitant about the logistics of an award ceremony during a global pandemic that blended in-person performances with remote communication and asynchronous technology.
During this event, the singer received the first-ever Tricon award because of her leadership in fashion, music, and activism, in addition to eight awards recognizing her music, videos, and collaborations in that year. So it is implied that it was a night where Gaga had a lot of visibility, with a lot of time on-air being the winner of the night.
True to the artist’s chameleonic fashion aesthetic, Gaga wore nine different outfits during the award ceremony, with nine different face masks that covered her nose and mouth properly. It was particularly remarkable that she performed for almost ten minutes wearing a face mask. Gaga and Ariana Grande were the only performers in that ceremony who covered their noses and mouths. It was a huge political message that communicated encouragement to use face masks and adapting them to one’s style to be your authentic self. As the audience for this type of event was mainly younger generations, Gaga used her visual presence to make this statement that blends fashion and politics in an authentic, remarkable, and successful way.
The Meme Face Mask
In today’s world, where an instant post can become viral internationally within minutes, it’s not uncommon that these images become fashion items for consumers to purchase in a very timely manner. This is what happened after the Inauguration Ceremony in January 2021, when a photograph of Bernie Sanders sitting on a chair wearing a pair of lovely gloves during this event became viral.
Within a matter of hours, an Instagram filter, t-shirts, and different swag with this image became available online for purchase, and of course, a face mask with this emblematic image was part of this viral moment in January 2021. Bernie Sanders reacted to the memes with grace, telling Seth Meyers in his Late Night Show that he was just there “trying to keep warm, trying to pay attention to what was going on.” He was definitely one of the inauguration highlights and a solid example of how quick fashion emerges and images become viral.
High-end face coverings
As face masks became a requirement for social interaction in common spaces, it was just a matter of time for designers and creatives to think of different ways to use face masks with style and distinction while being protected from the virus.
High-end fashion houses like Chanel and Louis Vuitton quickly introduced to their catalog their proposal for face coverings with the luxury that identifies these brands.
At first, the reactions were mixed. Some people felt offended by the proposal of making face masks “fashionable” since they have a medical and sanitary purpose. It was even more controversial when medical staff didn’t have enough face masks to protect themselves while attending to patients. The high fashion face coverings were almost seen as a mock of the sanitary crisis. But as the need for face masks and the need for people to go out and reopen their economy extended, more people accepted the idea of adapting face masks to one’s personality, playing with colors, textures, shapes, and prints.
The idea of using face masks as a fashion statement with a fashion logo was rapidly welcomed by influencers, celebrities, and fashion lovers, so the Gucci face mask became a must-have item for a while. The problem was that these masks were very easy to replicate in cheaper materials by unofficial manufacturers and online stores that quickly made their own version of a “high-fashion face mask with a Chanel logo” at more affordable prices.
The VOTE Face Mask
During a very uncertain and stressful time amid the presidential elections in 2020, candidates, volunteers, and voters were gathering with social distancing (and sometimes without it) to support their candidate.
The encouragement of political participation was higher than in previous elections as the tension of the future of the United States was mortifying many voters of different generations and backgrounds.
Additionally, the growth of mail ballots increased significantly during these elections, and as some people were somewhat skeptical about this process, encouragement for political participation was really needed.
This is why another huge intersection of politics and fashion happened. Face masks with the printed message: “VOTE” were widespread during the election process, encouraging folks across the nation to use the power of their vote. These masks became quickly available in big retailers, post offices, and online stores. The message of “Vote” was spreading throughout the country, resulting in turnout rates increasing in every state compared to the 2016 elections, according to Pew Research. That is the power of communicating a message effectively.
The Sustainable Face Mask
One of the many problems that this pandemic brought to us and that hasn’t been covered thoroughly by mass media is the environmental impact of disposable face masks and the lack of proper instructions to dispose of these masks.
Out of the estimated 52 billion face masks manufactured in 2020, around 1.6 billion entered the oceans contributing to the additional enormous plastic pollution that pollutes sea life yearly
As face masks may become a long-term accessory for us to prevent future diseases that are transmitted by mouth or nose, scientists, designers, and creatives have already started thinking of ways in which we can use a face mask in a sustainable way without jeopardizing our protection from these diseases.
Brankia is a face mask designed by students from Guadalajara, Mexico. It is ergonomically designed, with effective protection, and made of flexible PVC that can be reused several times, reducing the demand for single-use face masks. A great feature of this mask is the visibility of the lips, which helps for more effective communication when reading lips is necessary to fully understand what the other person is saying. This project was led by Professor Miguel Huerta Gutierrez, and created by Industrial Engineer Andrea Zuñiga, Mechanical Engineers César Iván Velarde and Oliver Mederos, and designers Brenda Paulina Ramírez and Elena Michelle Gónzalez. The mask is now available online at 5 USD for each piece, creating a sustainable solution for a long-term problem that will significantly reduce the number of disposable face masks.
The Face Mask Made Out Of Scraps
Most fabric face masks are made of two panels that have a couple of layers for additional protection. So the construction of a face mask is pretty straightforward, and it doesn’t require a lot of material to produce one. Fashion businesses realized that they could leverage the scraps that they throw into the trash or take to recycling and create masks out of these fashionable, sophisticated, and colorful fabrics that can match the outfit of the consumer.
This novelty that quickly was replicated by many fashion businesses across the world gives the opportunity of adding a new product with high demand to their catalog with the opportunity of using fashion scraps and reducing waste.
Of course, this is a practice that many other local designers, artists, and people who do arts and crafts in their homes start doing. It all depends on your perspective, but fabric scraps can become face masks.
A face mask itself and the decision of wearing it or not has been seen as a political statement in many parts of the United States. As many conservatives underestimated the danger of the virus and have been determined to contradict the suggestions of qualified doctors and scientists, supporters from this group of people are skeptical about the use of face masks and decide not to wear them. A clear example of the politicized use of face masks happened in San Diego back in June of 2020, when Lenin Gutierrez, a barista from Starbucks, refused to serve a customer who wasn’t wearing a mask. The customer took a picture of Gutierrez and posted it on social media with the quote: “Meet Lenen from Starbucks who refused to serve me cause I’m not wearing a mask. Next time, I will wait for the cops and bring a medical exemption,”. But the attempt of blasting Gutierrez didn’t work. The post went viral quickly, the customer received backlash from social media users, and the barista received over $80,000 in tips after a Go Fund Me page got set up for him.
We are all humans with different ideas, and sometimes we get caught in our own ideas that may be far from the truth. That’s why we must listen and trust those who understand better the sanitary challenges of the crisis and what are the best actions that we should take in our everyday life to reduce the risk of transmission.
As many scientists and studies claim that there will be some version of social distancing - pandemic in the next few years, at least, we must accept our reality with grace. We need to understand the need to protect ourselves and protect the people around us. So if the need for face masks might still be around, let’s use this opportunity to enhance our look with colorful and authentic pieces while protecting ourselves. Support the local business that supplies face masks in your community, try different colors, shapes, and sizes, and be an informed and fabulous civil citizen as we get through the challenging times.