Fashion is one of the cornerstones of self-expression. It has long been proven that one’s image communicates a message about oneself. People with evolved awareness of this, have used their personal style to consciously brand themselves in a particular way. It is no different in 2020 with the emergence of the compulsory use of a face covering/mask. While the reason behind why we are wearing masks all over the world is a solemn one, I believe it has also become a powerful symbol of shared experience. Going out and seeing everyone wearing a mask highlights that we are facing an invisible enemy, it also symbolises visually that we are doing so together. We are not alone.
At the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak masks were used predominantly for the functional purpose of prevention against obtaining or spreading the virus. Needless to say that it thus carried a negative connotation. As time has progressed and we learn more each day about the pandemic we have slowly began to accept the possibility that we may live with the virus as a threat for the foreseeable future. Along with this realisation comes our acknowledgement for the need to adapt. Many new ways of living are emerging such as a term introduced as – social distancing – I like to think of it as physical distancing with continued social engagement. Sometimes the words have an impact and by changing the way you say and view things, your entire attitude towards it can be changed as well. Just because we cannot be together it doesn’t mean we cannot still engage with, and maintain our investment in the key relationships in our lives.
The use of masks is also slowly transcending its original and predominant function and moving more and more into the arena of self-expression. We are seeing innovation with newly manufactured masks of all different kinds. For some, comfort is key and this asks designers to think more creatively in terms of breathability of fabric and more conducive fastening options. For others, style is of the essence and so are asking for patterns, colours and fabrics of every kind to match their outfits as an important aesthetic element, much like other accessories.
I have even seen masks being used to make a statement. One such mask read “I can’t breathe”. These are the chilling words of the recently deceased George Floyed, killed by a police officer on May 25 2020. As if what we are facing with the pandemic isn’t enough it seems that in parts of the world we continue to battle one another for the respect of our basic human rights and dignity. Ironically, when I think about the mask it reminds me that we are all equal. Irrespective of race, class, gender, preference, income bracket, title, position we are all vulnerable to this pandemic. The coronavirus has little regard for difference among people and is attacking what is common and sacred to all.
Whatever your reason for choosing the mask you wear over and above its functional use remember its powerful symbolic meaning. We are all facing this enemy, we are all equal and finally each time you get to put your mask on it is a symbol that you have survived and are still alive. Walk with gratitude and consider the gift of health in these uncertain and challenging times.
By Chivonne Jones