Since the UK government finally confirmed that face coverings will be compulsory from 15th June in enclosed public spaces and on public transport, face masks have swiftly become the unwitting fashion trend of summer 2020. Historically face masks have been commonplace in religious or theatrical performances or used as a political statement but have yet to enjoy popularity in mainstream Westernised culture.
Wearing masks has long been the norm over in Asian countries where previous outbreaks and epidemics have given rise to wearing face masks as a gesture towards social courtesy. Face masks occasionally appearing on the runways have slowly infiltrated through to celebrities such as Future, Billie Eilish, Cardi B and Lady Gaga but the trend, for lack of a better word, always falls short of establishing itself as an accepted wardrobe accessory. Despite sought after brands such as Gucci, Alexander Wang, Fendi and Alexander Wang championing the mask during extravagant, lust-worthy fashion shows, it seems absurd to think masks may ever have a permeant place in the fashion world post-pandemic. However, it is significant to remember that sunglasses and hats have too, managed to evolve from medical contraptions, invented to protect from the sun to commonplace fashion staples.
Although evidence is not entirely clear as it was about the protection of hats and sunglasses, it is thought the face coverings may offer some, albeit limited protection against the virus. It is imperative other official government advise should still be closely followed when wearing a face mask, such as regular hand washing and respecting social distancing measures. Compulsory use exempts young children, disabled people or those with breathing difficulties from having to wear a mask however anyone who falls outside of this realm risks facing a fine of £100, with hundreds of extra officers deployed across the UK to enforce the guidelines at train, bus and tube stations.
In response to the governments ruling, a host of designers and brands have repurposed their manufacturing spaces and rearranged staffing in order to produce a range of non-medical face masks; providing people with a platform for self-expression amid the chaos, whilst somewhat preventing renewed pressure on the critical shortage of medical-grade face masks.
The mask may still prove to be this seasons accessory du jour but with the generalised use of masks increasing there will be an unavoidable loss of the ability to communicate through smiling cues and facial expressions, therefore the array of prints and designs to choose from, provides a creative way to make a statement, as they look set to become part of daily lifestyle attire, even if temporarily.
Through capitalising on the growing face mask market, resourceful brands have found a lifeline of revenue to stay afloat in financially challenging times. However, most designers are selflessly funnelling some if not all profits from mask sales to varying charities; giving back despite their own discernible needs. Much about style rather than precaution, below is a selection of the most stylish masks for the fashion-savvy (all listed masks are reusable and washable):
For the more bold personalities, Collina Strada mask combines sustainability with extravagance; sourced deadstock material unused from previous collections is used for the pleated body of the masks, with contrasting side bows. Although a hefty $100, the brand is donating three masks to New York healthcare workers with every purchase. If a little bit out of the price range the brand also has tie-dye masks at a more affordable cost.
The British Fashion Council has launched a selection of designer face masks available for the public. Designed by six British designers including Halpern, Raeburn, Rixo, Julien Macdonald, Liam Hodges and Mulberry, the project aims to raise one million pounds with proceeds split between carefully selected charities. Coming in a set of three with two protective pouches for £15 the masks can be purchased from stores such as ASOS, John Lewis and Boots.
With each release selling out in a matter of minutes, The Vampires Wife has a vast choice of silk or cotton face masks if you are quick enough or lucky enough to get hold of one. In various petite prints with all the ruffles and detailing you would expect from the brand, prices range from £30 to £35 including its own matching drawstring storage bag. The brand is donating a percentage of proceeds to varying charities to support healthcare workers, food banks and children’s foundations.
Kim Kardashian West is one of the designers capitalising on the Coronavirus crisis by releasing a line of minimalist face masks via her brand, SKIMS. The seamless offerings come in five various skin tone shades, at the price of $8. 10,000 of the seamless masks have been allocated and donated to various charities.
Copenhagen based brand, Helmstedt has created colourful masks with a pleated design and matching elasticated straps. The masks are on sale for approximately £30 and are crafted from deadstock fabric of silk cotton, meaning each design is unique. Profits from mask sales are begin given to the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
British based designer Edeline Lee has created a simple face mask made from a fluid-resistant breathable fabric with decorative contrast bindings and a tenable wire nose piece. Enlisting the help of volunteers the brand is aiming to donate 20,000 barrier masks to frontline workers. The three-pack of masks cost £40 with the proceeds covering the materials and logistical costs of producing a further eighty masks, to be donated to frontline workers.
Citizens of Humanity are sticking to their denim roots and offering an assortment of distinctive cotton masks in varying denim colours. The masks come in a pack of five and retail for $25. For the month of June, the brand is donating 100% of the retail selling price to various causes including the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Designer Jonathan Simkhai is catering for all tastes with a spectrum of neutral, bright or patterned packs that reflect the brand’s design codes. Each pack of two patterned or four plain masks will set you back $48. In an initiative to protect more people, the brand is donating a mask to frontline essential workers with each purchase.
For £28, LA cool-brand Reformation is selling packs of five face masks. Due to excessive demand and owing to using whatever fabric is on hand specific requests cannot be accommodated and the prints or colours will be sent randomly, depending on availability. Ethically manufactured the brand is using offcuts and overstock of fabrics used for previous collections.
Sports giant Adidas have also been quick to get in on the action, the brand’s simple black face mask with signature logo sold out in minutes. Unique in the fact the masks can be purchased in a variety of sizes, they are sold in a pack of three made with 40% recycled material. Adidas is also donating £2 of each £12.95 sale to Save The Children Global Coronavirus Response Fund.
Designer Florence Bridge has a range of affordable £12 face masks. The designs range from smooth duchess satin to digitally printed cotton and gingham seersucker fabric. A percentage of the profits will be donated to Fuel Our Frontline Charity who deliver essential groceries to hospital workers in the UK.
For a luxurious touch Wolford, a brand synonymous with impeccable shapewear solutions has designed a range of masks, from a simple black offering for £20 to a luxe £30 lace mask. Crafted from double layered, water repellent fabric, the brand boasts that the masks provide the perfect fit, resulting from the finest knitting and fabrics used. The income generated from sales is used for production costs and logistics with the rest donated to hospitals.
Aiming for a softer feminine look, LoveShackFancy has created a vintage take on the face mask in their usual romantically ditsy style prints. Using leftover fabrics from previous collections each mask is one of a kind with prints shipped at random. Due to unprecedented demand orders are limited to two per customer at the cost of $20 per mask. The brand has pledged a percentage of proceeds to go to front line workers.
Delivered in white and black combinations of their famous diagonal lines and signature arrow logos, the Off-White face masks proved a must-have essential for the uber-cool. Unable to keep up with the sheer volume of demand the $95 masks sold out in minutes with reports suggesting it was the most popular brand searched for in the face mask category.
For those who like to match their mask to their dress, Pearl Lowe has vintage style masks to match their range of print dresses. Handmade in Somerset by local seamstresses and made from Liberty print fabric each mask costs between £25 to £30 with £5 being donated to NHS charities. The fabrics used are from leftover collections minimising on waste and maintaining sustainable produce.
Words / JOANNE M KENNEDY