Before March 2020, anyone seen wearing a face mask in public would likely have been looked at very strangely. Were they sick? Were they paranoid? Trying to make a statement? What were they trying to hide? But since then, thanks to the global pandemic and all, face masks have not only become a common sight, but face mask fashion is also now a thing. And a very profitable one at that.
As the world discovered in the spring of 2020 that wearing a face mask was an essential step in controlling the spread of the airborne virus COVID-19, the face mask – essentially a non-entity in the fashion world before that time – grew to be a necessity almost overnight. It quickly became clear that face mask fashion would build beyond the blue surgical mask or the white N95, and fashion designers big and small moved to capitalize on this massive movement. Companies who faced challenges during lockdown, when fewer people were investing in expensive clothing given the shift to Zoom meetings and the home office or classroom, suddenly found a new source of revenue. With a wide range of prints, patterns, characters, slogans, logos, etc., face mask fashion became a means of self-expression, and people were willing to pay for a way to brighten – or express their frustration with – this dark time. Given that many designers and companies could easily recycle materials they already had into new masks, mask production was a logical and low-investment shift to keep business going. And keep going it did: it was estimated that the face mask industry would top $6 billion by 2021.
But with the development of a vaccine and the virus’ ebb in many parts of the world, many are wondering whether face masks will be an enduring trend. Did masks rise from obscurity in the fashion world only to recede back into oblivion, or will they fill a more permanent spot on fashion companies’ shelves? It is likely that new variants and seasonal resurgences of COVID-19 – not to mention the flu – and worsening air quality in some parts of the world may motivate people to continue their mask-wearing, at least occasionally. And, now that people have adjusted to it, many may continue to sport masks simply as a fashion statement. But as to the long-term endurance of this trend, everyone will have to wait and see.