Fashion has always had a way of taking our core wardrobe essentials — outerwear, underwear, and everything in between — and turning them into statement pieces. Consider the trusty trench coat, for example, which was originally created to shield soldiers from the elements but, over time, turned into one of the most distinctive utility apparel items a person could own. And don't get us started on how the functional bike short has morphed into a top streetwear trend that will not go away (even after its initial rise and fall in the '90s). It's no surprise, then, that the protective face coverings we've been advised (and in some cases, ordered) to wear outdoors to curb the spread of the coronavirus have quickly been embraced and beautified by the fashion world.
"It just felt like there was a need [for a stylish face mask]," says Hillary Taymour, founder of the sustainable clothing brand Collina Strada. "I was wearing brightly colored masks walking over the bridge daily to the studio and it put a smile on everyone’s face. So why not bring that to the general public?"
Taymour began producing non-medical face masks in mid-March, drawing on the crafty skills of model and friend Sasha Melnychuk to design something protective yet personal. The final product was a remarkable marriage of motifs featuring Collina Strada's signature ribbons — a fixture of the brand's runway shows — and the vibrant patterns of already available deadstock fabric. This kind of creative take on meeting consumer needs during the pandemic allows shoppers to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines without losing touch with the familiarity of their personal style. Masks may still feel like an unusual addition to our daily routines because of the way they conceal the parts of ourselves that are normally exposed, but that doesn't mean our identities have to be hidden too. By opting for the right print to suit your own aesthetic and making a purchase you know will benefit those in need, wearing a face mask can become more than just our collective responsibility — it can be an entirely new form of self-expression.
"With every purchase [of a Collina Strada mask], you are donating five masks to healthcare workers," Taymour says. "The design just brings a little sunshine during one of the most difficult times we have seen in this lifetime."
Taymour was one of many designers to pivot to non-medical face mask production with the goal of giving back as the coronavirus crisis hit its devastating crescendo. Companies like Reformation and Sanctuary also reacted quickly by organizing local manufacturers to do the same using fabrics from their warehouses. New York-based label Alice+Olivia announced that it would donate 5,000 face masks to medical centers around the country while selling consumer-friendly options online. In addition to equipping customers with the coverings they need, founder Stacey Bendet pointed out a greater purpose of this initiative: "Let's show support for our community and the doctors, nurses, delivery workers, and first responders who are combatting this crisis on the front lines,” she said in a press release. The more non-medical face masks made available to the public, the less of a strain there will be on the medical-grade materials our heroes on the front lines require to protect themselves on the job.
Ahead, we've rounded up a list of fashion brands that are enhancing the process of mask manufacturing with their unique brands of sartorial savoir-faire. Face coverings are a crucial way for us to keep one another safe when we're in public, and they aren't going anywhere. So go ahead and get comfortable with one that speaks to your own style, be that in the form of something upcycled, a badass camo print, delicate florals — even toile, if that's your thing. You do you, as long as you're doing it responsibly.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.
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