The list of indoor public spaces where the government has made face coverings mandatory was extended earlier this month, to include cinemas, places of worship and other public spaces, meaning masks have fast become an everyday necessity — and an accessory with growing fashion kudos.
DIY masks or disposable, medical grade versions dominated during the initial phase of lockdown. Now, as face coverings become a wardrobe staple for the foreseeable, the popularity of statement-making printed versions among the fashion crowd is ever-growing.
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High fashion labels have served up statement masks in their collections for multiple seasons, with an eye on the Asian market, where masks have long been worn in public. Though designers seemingly pre-figured their newfound status in European and North American markets with their increasing presence in spring/summer 2020 collections.
Parisian brands including Marine Serre sent masked models down their runways in logo emblazoned styles. While Off-White released a mask near the start of the year which became the most searched menswear item in the world for the first quarter of 2020, according to global fashion search platform Lyst.
Lyst also found that searches for fashion face masks in general surged by a whopping 441 per cent over the first quarter of the year, with prints, especially gingham, tie-dye and floral styles topping searches in the UK and US.
The recent news that weddings and other distanced gatherings like music concerts can resume should only only amplify the demand for pretty masks, especially ones which match guests’ outfits.
Influencers have led the trend wearing matching dresses or skirts with their masks, with styles by US label Simon Miller and slow fashion brand O’Pioneers seen all over Instagram.
While in another copy Kate moment, The Duchess of Cambridge caused the Amaia Liberty print mask she wore to complement her Emilia Wickstead dress on an outing in Wales to sell out earlier this month. Lyst notes that searches for ‘floral face mask’ rose 185 per cent after her appearance.
On the British high street and at mid-range UK fashion labels, the pandemic has led brands to act fast to create masks to match their most popular dresses.
Rixo, whose printed dresses are a cult wedding guest favourite, has made a ditsy floral mask and pouch to match its Cozi midi dress and Georgia skirt.
The trend has also proved a great way for brands with an eye on sustainability to use up offcuts while offering shoppers the chance to match their look to their face mask.
At the start of lockdown, British labels like Christopher Kane offered old season fabrics to shoppers to make their own masks and caused a social media frenzy. Now, smaller brands are following suit with current season statement fabrics.
O’Pioneers began using print cotton cut-offs to make masks to match its dresses earlier this year, before using end of role Liberty fabrics instead when the initial run sold out so quickly due to a strong influencer uptake.
The conscious brand’s floral masks have frilled straps which make them as whimsical as their dresses.
“Matching a mask with your outfit is just something fun and for us it just happened organically due to the way we work – to avoid wastage as much as possible”, says O’Pioneers co-founder Tania Hindmarch.
“It was a no-brainer to use up the small bits of fabric we had leftover from making our dresses by making masks, which by default match all the dresses on our website,” she adds.
“We have had many customers buying a dress with the matching mask”, says Hindmarch.
O’Pioneers is among the brands with masks in The Daily Dress Edit capsule collection started by stylist Isabel Spearman to raise funds for the Intensive Care Society charity and the work they are doing to support ICU staff during the pandemic
Chinti and Parker, Emilia Wickstead, Cefinn (the label started by Spearman’s former boss Samantha Cameron) and Justine Tabak’s have also produced a mask in one of their signature prints of the season to match their dresses.
For those who prefer a less dressy approach to style, unisex brand Newt London has pivoted to making masks to match their sustainable range of bright, playful printed shirts. Its non-medical grade face coverings are reversible, with prints on both sides, and are made from the same recycled fabric as its shirts.
With Hindmarch noting that “O’Pioneers has many returning customers who are buying masks in a variety of prints – creating a ‘mask wardrobe’”, it’s clear the desire for a rotating supply of masks to wear with different outfits is growing. As well as helping wearers and those around them to stay safe and healthy this also comes with fringe benefits for brands, giving them the opportunity to add a more sustainable steps to their production processes.