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Face masks now a fashion statement

C Gopinath | Updated on July 26, 2020 Published on July 26, 2020

Designers are rolling out personalised ones too

Face masks provide mystery. The man in the iron mask (we are told it was actually black velvet cloth) spent about 34 years towards end of the 17th century in French prisons during the reign of Louis XIV. Alexandre Dumas in his famous novel made the prisoner out to be the identical twin of the king.

Face masks have now become de jure and remain mysterious. We were first told that the only mask worth considering is the N95 from 3M because those are guaranteed to stop 95 per cent of the Covid virus. We were also told that none of the other masks provide any protection. Then recommendations gradually shifted to wearing any mask because even though it may not protect the wearer, it will protect others around by preventing a spray of the virus.

Unfortunately humans are not inclined to put themselves into trouble for the benefit of others so mask wearing was spotty. Then the recommendation changed once again. We were told that everyone should wear a mask for, guess what, it does protect the wearer. Some protect you 30 per cent others protect you 60 per cent but protect they do. At least tie a kerchief around your face.

If at this point you start developing a theory of conspiracy involving fabric manufacturers, I will not blame you. After all, the apparel industry has been passing through difficult times. Large numbers of apparel workers are unemployed.

Meanwhile, the designers went into overtime. They found that most men and women have given up wearing headgear, and men have also slowly reduced wearing ties. Casual Friday spilled into casual everyday, except the Japanese salaryman. This has reduced the sartorial options we have to embellish our looks and shape our identity. Thus, the masks provide us new opportunities.

You can get masks made of the same fabric as your dress like the headgear of Nigerian women. You can get disposable masks, washable ones with pretty designs, made of cotton, multiple layers, and with built-in air filtration systems. Etsy, the popular online retailer announced that it has geared up its flexible supply chain to provide you with a personalised mask and has become a leader in the field. It is even using its mask agility to attract new customers who go on to buy other things.

The face mask is an ideal face covering, leave alone all the medical arguments. Your face reveals a lot, some of which you may not want to reveal. When you smirk at someone, your mask may give you the benefit of doubt and make them think you smiled at them!

Tracking and spying

Face masks also provide us protection in this new era of tracking and spying that all governments are getting into. Cameras are installed everywhere under the garb of national security. Somebody is always watching you when you step out of the house. To make their job easier, software engineers have developed facial recognition techniques so they also know who you are. The Chinese, going a step further, give their people credit and debit points based on their behaviour recorded by cameras. In this environment, wear a cap, dark glasses, and a face mask and you can escape recognition for a few more years!

Although not requiring anonymity, some religious practitioners are also pleased with face masks. Jain monks, who traditionally covered their mouth to prevent accidental inhalation of insects, must be happy others have caught-up. Devout Hindus who would cover their mouths while speaking to their religious leader now find they have one hand free.

Perhaps at the next Royal Ascot, it is the masks and not the hat that will draw attention. And the President of the US even has a mask with the presidential seal on it. If only he would wear it.

The writer is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston

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Published on July 26, 2020
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