Words and images by Elizabeth Neil
Much like a new fashion trend, coronavirus made its first appearance on the world stage in 2020, leading to the introduction of mandatory face masks in some countries.
The masks were introduced as a precaution to stop the spread of the virus, a decision that didn’t sit well with everybody. Naturally, this caused a social divide between those willing to wear masks and those who protest them.
While mandatory face masks are not required everywhere. In Queensland, people are given the option of wearing one when out in public or in situations where social distancing isn’t possible. As masks become part of everyday life, some people have chosen to trade in the blue surgical face covers in favour of something more fashionable.
One such force behind this trend is Nicole Christey, owner of Sydney-based Made to Mask (@madetomask). Nicole’s face masks are four-ply cotton, washable, reusable and come in a wide variety of colours, prints and patterns. Nicole says Made to Mask started as a side hustle and quickly gained momentum when there was an international shortage of masks during the first global wave of the virus. “I posted one image of me with a mask on and it … resulted in roughly 1,000 masks being sold to both people in Australia and America,” she says. “When the Melbourne outbreak happened, I received about 200 orders in one day and, in the six weeks since, I have made roughly another 2,000 face masks.”
She says stylish face masks are just another fashion accessory that can complement any outfit. “We wear hats and glasses to protect from the sun, and scarves to protect from the wind and cold, so a face mask to prevent spreading or potentially catching the virus is no different.”Louise Ryan, a private consultant in the not-for-profit sector, believes that stylish masks are also more popular than their surgical counterparts. “I find that masks vary[ing] from the traditional surgical masks are more appealing as they allow for some self-expression while also performing the vital role of protecting people from COVID-19,” she says.
“We wear hats and glasses to protect from the sun, and scarves to protect from the wind and cold, so a face mask to prevent spreading or potentially catching the virus is no different.”
She adds that the booming trend isn’t just beneficial to customers, but also to businesses that have been affected by coronavirus. “Many businesses and non-government organisations have started making these masks to remain relevant at a very difficult time for fashion sales,” Louise says. For instance, many are buying masks from brands they would usually purchase clothing from in order to continue supporting them.
However, not everyone is on board with face masks. According to stay-at-home housewife Therese Munro, while she wants to prevent the spread as much as the next person, she cannot cope with wearing a face mask as they make her feel uncomfortable. “I don’t know how else to describe it other than claustrophobic,” she says. “If I absolutely must wear a mask, like at the doctors’, then I will, but I can’t wear them for long periods of time.” Therese says she admires the stylish masks for their initiative to bring a bit of light to an otherwise dark time. “I think some of them are beautiful,” she says.
Regardless of how pretty some of the fabric masks are, Therese says it doesn’t sway her stance on them as a whole. “I do think these types of masks are a lot prettier than the surgical masks, but it doesn’t really affect my opinion,” she says. “My first thought whenever I see someone out wearing a mask is always that they’re sick and it makes me wonder why they left their house in the first place.”
Despite her personal stance on the subject, Therese agrees with the statement that these stylish face masks are having a positive effect. “If wearing a mask that matches your outfit makes you feel more confident and means more people are wearing them, then I have no quarrels with it,” she said.
Whether you find face masks uncomfortable or can’t bear to leave the house without one, it’s undeniable that they’re becoming a contemporary fashion accessory. With entire businesses founded around creating these masks, they’re here for the long run.