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Masks for Fashionistas and Mere Mortals

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

Mask-wearing is not just about doing the right thing, but about being seen to do it.

The Lyst Index is a quarterly ranking of fashion’s hottest brands and products. To compile the results, this global fashion search platform analyses the online shopping behaviour of more than 5 million shoppers a month searching, browsing and buying fashion across 12,000 designers and stores online. The formula behind the Index takes into account global Lyst and Google search data, conversion rates and sales, as well as brand and product social media mentions and engagement statistics worldwide over a 3 month period.

The latest Lyst Index reports a massive surge in searches for face masks in the last quarter (and that's a period that was predominantly quarantine free), and names the Off-White arrow logo face mask – retail price $95 (£75), now inevitably sold out – as the most coveted buy of the moment. Some analysts are suggesting that the face mask could overtake the trainer as the best-selling accessory for mass market fashion.

”Best-selling accessory” is, of course, deeply unsettling phrasing when discussing protection against a deadly disease. But the demand for face masks is about more than their efficacy, about which consensus remains elusive.

Mask-wearing is not just about doing the right thing, but about being seen to do it. Mask-wearing, unfamiliar in British culture, is becoming more common as people find that the embarrassment of being the only person in the supermarket without a mask outweighs the self-consciousness of wearing one. In the pavement-dance of physical distancing, a mask is a way of signalling to others that you are a responsible citizen – not the runner to barge sweatily past others, nor the shopper who squeezes all the melons while breathing heavily.

Fashion has always been about both fitting in and standing out. Mask wearing can be a way of pledging allegiance to good citizenship – like wearing a poppy in the first week of November, or a T-shirt in support of the NHS – and an opportunity for self-expression. There are sleek high-tech masks and there are sweetly homespun ones; there are designer logo masks and sloganned high-street ones. Jeans, running shoes, even sunglasses: many of fashion’s hero products have utilitarian roots. Although where mandated by law as it already is in some regions, the mask will bring new meaning to the phrase “must-have”.

Mask-ara: Extra make-up applied to "make one's eyes pop" before venturing out in public wearing a face mask.

The New York-based fashion brand Collina Strada is selling brightly coloured masks fastened with ribbon-trailing bows, made from deadstock fabric from past collections. The masks, which have an opening to insert a filter, retail for $100; for every one sold, the brand donate five to healthcare workers.

The independent London fashion week designer Christopher Kane offered on Instagram to post unused fabric and a simple mask-making pattern to anyone who asked. Having now fulfilled thousands of requests, the studio has used up all its fabric, but has made the pattern available to download, so that you can make a mask at home with any cotton fabric, and ribbon.

Edeline Lee, another young London fashion week talent, whose dresses are worn by Olivia Colman and Taylor Swift, has launched a nonprofit mask project selling packs of three masks for £24. Instead of cotton, Lee’s masks are made from nonwoven spunbound polyproylene, the fluid-resistant, breathable fabric used to make surgical masks. Each purchase covers the cost of a further 80 masks sent to frontline workers who, Lee says, can wear them over their officially issued respirators to make them last longer.

If you want to see a demo of how to make a remarkably smart, yet incredibly simple mask (no sewing required), see this face mask demo.

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