Remember going out in public barefaced, mouth and nose hanging out for the whole world to see? A little more than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, wearing a face mask has become routine, if not exactly “normal.” We reach for our masks in the same autopilot mode we use to grab our keys, wallets, and cell phones before heading out the door.
Back in March, when businesses first shut down and we knew less about COVID-19, mask-wearing was initially not encouraged, then it was a novelty, then a quick lesson in the evils of price-gouging, then a mad scramble for whatever cloth face covering was available on Etsy or via a kind stranger with a sewing machine.
Now the science on mask wearing is in, and most of us are still covering up the lower half of our faces every time we leave our homes. We’ve learned what makes a good mask—which means it’s time to stop reusing disposable surgical masks for weeks on end, or heavy-breathing through an ill-fitting piece of fabric we can’t wait to tear off. As winter approaches and outdoor activities become less available, it’s a good time to think about getting what I call an investment mask.
OK, say more about this “investment mask” thing
An investment mask is any mask that meets basic safety standards and that you can see yourself wearing daily, comfortably, for as long as we all need to. It isn’t necessarily about price; it’s more about investing time and energy into finding a mask (or, realistically, two or three masks) that doesn’t feel like a weird, damp mouth prison. Hypothetically, you’ll be wearing your investment mask multiple times a day, so it needs to be something you actually like. Getting an investment mask might also mean buying a decent mask for specific activities (like exercising or going out on cold or rainy days) instead of trying to wear the same one for every single thing you do.
An investment mask is one of those utilitarian purchases where taking the time to research and find something high-quality for a good price makes a big difference, similar to a good pair of running shoes or a sturdy winter jacket.
Comfortable accessories are key
As anyone who has ever spent a day in a blister-inducing pair of shoes knows, the wrong item of clothing can be agony-inducing—something you definitely need to avoid if the item in question doubles as a public safety measure.
Now that you’ve been masking up for a few months, you should have a better idea of what works for you and what just doesn’t. When you’re investment mask shopping, ask yourself granular questions about what you need to feel good: Do you prefer ear loops, or ties? Is cotton your fabric of choice, or do you prefer a synthetic blend? Do you interact with a large swath of the public who could benefit from your wearing a clear mask? Do you need a mask designed to keep glasses from fogging up? Do you need something easy to sterilize, or something disposable because you don’t have laundry access? Is it time to admit that you’re actually an “adult small/teen”?
Breathability is also an important factor, especially as it balances with safety: VICE reported in August that three-ply cloth masks, or masks with three distinct layers, offer robust protection without practically smothering wearers. Wear fewer layers, and you may not be trapping the particles that transmit COVID-19; meanwhile, anything heavier could quickly become a chin guard rather than a trusty, comfy public safety precaution.
Choosing a mask that feels good to you means you’re more likely to wear it diligently (and maybe even forget you have it on)—a win-win for you and literally everyone you come into contact with.
It’s time to admit that different masks for different moods are nice
We’ve already established as a scientific fact that everyone looks hot in a face mask. Masks are also getting more fashionable—it’s no coincidence that hip, millennial-focused brands like Outdoor Voices, Reformation, and Everlane all dropped masks of their own this spring.
While I am not going to steer you toward whatever “MASK” Virgil Abloh is selling, or implore you to shell out on any of the fashion masks on this Vogue list, there are way more cute, fun options for sale right now than there were in mid-March, which lends itself to shopping for investment masks for “special occasions.”
Think what you want in a mask you’d wear on a distanced first date, or to a backyard happy hour with friends you haven’t seen in months, or to a special event (that you’ve been assured is safe), like an outdoor wedding or birthday party. Unless you’re a fashion blogger or a Leo, that’s probably not the same mask you’d toss on to go to the grocery store.
The more you like your mask, the better off everyone is
The bleak reality is that we’ll probably be doing this for a while: Studies have shown mask mandates are effective at reducing COVID-19 transmission in communities that enact them, and experts agree that widespread public mask-wearing reduces the chance of spreading COVID-19 through droplets and aerosols.
Because a vaccine for the virus does not appear to be on the immediate horizon—an advanced trial at the University of Oxford was just paused after a volunteer experienced “potentially unexplained illness,“ and the CEOs of nine major pharmaceutical companies published a letter on Tuesday pushing back against Trump’s promise of a vaccine by November 1, 2020—mask measures are probably gonna stay necessary for the foreseeable future.
If we must suffer through life under a fundamentally broken system helmed by monsters and sycophants, why not do it in comfort and style?
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