The Newest Addition to Your Wardrobe: Masks, Function or Fashion?

How the fashion industry has capitalized on the requirement of wearing a mask, and how you can get the best mask in order to be both stylish and safe.


Peri Dunn ‘22, Hunter College High School

Even during in the warmer fall weather, Staff Reporter Alexandra Zwiebel ’22 was still wearing her mask outside in Central Park, making it seasonally in fashion!

As an avid reader of Vogue, I could not wait to indulge in scoping out the new fall fashion trends, only to be greeted with a plethora of pages filled with advertisements for masks. The face coverings advertised in the September 2020 issue were priced between $35 and $100, featuring colorful, cutting-edge variations from brand-name designers such as Marc Jacobs and Tory Burch. Though they were chic and stylish, it made me ponder the functionality of this new must-have fashion item. 

These masks are beautiful statement pieces, but are you really getting the best bang for your buck? There are many unique choices for any occasion, outfit, and preference, but the criteria to consider when choosing a mask is lengthy, spanning from breathability to overall comfort.

For comfort, the majority of people prefer and recommend silk masks that retain a breathable shape, one that provides a snug fit around the face but is not too stifling, and a lower breathing/air resistance while it is being worn. It also needs to sit comfortably on the nose, and provide adjustable ear straps, such as the Wolford silk mask. “Silk masks have been shown to be an effective mask while also preventing facial irritation,” said Lenox Hill dermatologist Howard Sobel, M.D. He goes on to say that silk face coverings properly combat the newfound ‘maskne’ (mask acne), since other materials may lead to irritation due to constant mask wearing. In addition, silk fabrics do not absorb as much moisture as non-silk ones, so they will not dry out the skin or clog pores. All these added benefits lead to clear, maskne-free skin, making silk masks a highly effective and popular choice.

For a mask to use during exercise, you should not be looking at anything incredibly expensive, but instead something that prioritizes breathability and comfort. Perhaps you should also look into masks that have a pocket for filters to keep it and your skin clean during your workout! CNN highly recommends the masks from Athleta, and I can personally vouch for them, as well. They are lightweight, breathable, and affordable, providing lots of comfort to work out in. 

Here are some of my most stylish masks at the moment. The top mask is a silk mask by the brand Wolford, and the bottom mask is a jersey material mask from Alice and Olivia.
(Alexandra Zwiebel)

For those who are looking for a mask with style above all else, many printed and colorful masks are being released and sold at places such as Bloomingdales, Saks 5th Avenue, and even online markets like Amazon. “For style, honestly go with [any mask] that’s printed, just because you could pair it with any outfit that you have,” said a Bloomingdale’s employee. She also explained that she has seen many of these designer brands just slap their logo onto a face covering and mass sell it.

Here we see how masks are being incorporated into fall style and outfit pairings. (Alexandra Zwiebel)

Though these masks can be generic and perhaps even of lower quality, this same employee said that shoppers will buy anything with the brand name on it, despite the expensive pricing. For instance, she said that when Helmut Lang came out with their $40 mask, many people flocked to the store to add the coveted designer’s new piece to their wardrobe. These are not nearly as protective as the N-95s and other more practical masks being made by fashion companies, but in these times of COVID-19, the fashion industry saw their sales plummet due to the lack of in-person shopping. Many other clothing companies have adopted similar branding strategies in order to capitalize on this newfound wardrobe staple and to ensure that their brand thrives. 

During the summer, when we saw New York City COVID-19 rates drop, there was an increase in in-person shopping. While walking through Bloomingdale’s, I noticed that many people were taking their masks off for “just a minute,” whether it was to sniff a perfume or because they were in their own dressing room. Nonetheless, the guidelines were not being followed inside of the store, giving even more reason to purchase a functional mask, rather than just a pretty, mainstream branded one.

A subsequent example of this in the media is how celebrities are neglecting to follow these guidelines. For instance, according to BBC News, Lana Del Rey recently hosted a poetry book signing in Los Angeles where she wore a beautiful, yet completely useless mesh, jeweled mask. Though it was a stunning and iconic fashion piece, she has clearly promoted fashion over functionality when it comes to wearing a face covering. That being said, it is definitely possible to purchase an affordable mask that is stylish and fashion forward, but one that is also comfortable and protective.

Vogue’s September magazine had a quote near the mask advertisements that stated “the defining accessory of our era is not, as it turns out, an It bag or a chic new shoe. It’s something far more essential: the face mask.”

“For style, honestly go with [any mask] that’s printed, just because you could pair it with any outfit that you have,” said a Bloomingdale’s employee.