Fashion often seizes on wearables that have been introduced for functional reasons. Take leggings, for example. First a sports-only item designed for unencumbered movement on a bike or in a gym, now people wear them for style and own several pairs. Jeans? These sturdy pants designed for laborers are now stacked in so many closets in multiple washes, lengths and cuts. Glasses too – I remember my first pair was pretty basic. Now one finds glasses frames to fit their face shape and their personal style. If you browse online for frames you can try them on virtually; it’s amazing.
This past March, I wore my first face mask. It felt strange. I decided early on that voluntarily wearing a mask would feel awkward and make me stand out in my neighborhood. I also believed that wearing one was going to protect me and other people. If other people were going to wear them (to protect me and themselves) it seemed important that we normalize mask-wearing, the sooner the better.
I was walking down the street last spring and came upon some of my friends standing and talking. Everyone stood at a distance but I was the only one wearing a mask. One friend is a surgeon who worked at a hospital where cases were rising and protocols were evolving. With his daughter at his side, he called out to me, “That mask isn’t going to do anything for you, and they can even cause harm. If everyone starts wearing masks, they’ll increase demand for N-95 masks that are needed in the hospitals. The mask you are wearing does nothing.” He gently mocked me for wearing it. I said that I’d heard that argument but also some different well-informed opinions on the efficacy of mask-wearing. He replied that I had a false sense of security with the mask and that others would too. Slowly but surely over the spring into the summer, masks became more common than not; it’s unusual to see someone without one (even my surgeon friend).
The truth is, an N-95 mask is the most effective due to the random pattern of its fibers and its electromagnetic charge to attract and trap aerosol particles. A mask made of tightly woven cotton or an ordinary surgical mask does an excellent job too, especially if two people who may be near each other are wearing them. The small amount of particles that escape one person’s mask, if they even manage to reach the other person, are filtered yet again by their mask – vastly decreasing the transmission of coronavirus particles.
Possibly the most important factor in mask-wearing is the way the mask fits. It should be ample in size, snug against the face, and in a shape that allows breathing space inside the mask. A loose mask leaks particles. This is why wearing a bandana that is open below the chin offers very little protection.
Always wear your mask over your nose, make sure your chin is covered, and keep your mask snug. Discard disposable masks, and frequently wash the cotton ones. If you need to go indoors, you can even slip a coffee filter in your mask for another layer of protection.
It may be that one day soon, we will not strictly need to wear masks, or will use them for certain situations, like at movie theaters or basketball games. One thing for sure is that right now, masks are essential. And if wearing them everywhere is not mandated by law, most institutions, including banks, hair salons and certainly healthcare settings, require them, for good reason.
Wearing a mask feels inconvenient, but seatbelts probably felt that way in 1966, right? Did you know that in the 1940s and 50s, even as scientific research demonstrated that they saved lives, many people asserted the opposite, and even cut them out of their cars? So many lives were lost before seat belts became mandatory. Let’s not make the same mistake with masks.
Small confession: I may go from reluctant user to enthusiastic wearer of masks this winter. They do a nice job of keeping my face warm. And back to fashion, lots of people have several masks, and they even think about matching the sweater they are wearing, or matching the weather. Some have straps, some ear loops, some velcro, are printed with creative patterns and colors and even political statements . . . are masks becoming a style item? After all, we wear them on our very faces! I myself have some fall colors in mind for the next ones I make. And apparently, designers and shops like Lily Pulitzer, Uniqlo, Levis, Etsy, even Louis Vuitton and Gucci – are standing by to help!!!
Wisconsin Public Radio, The Surprisingly Controversial History Of Seat Belts September 25, 2017 read the article
New York Times, How NOT to wear a mask, April 8, 2020 read the article
New York Times, Masks Work. Really. We’ll show you How, October 30, 2020 read the article
LeviStrauss.com The History of Denim, July 4, 2019 read the article