What a strange power there is in clothing.” ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our ideas of normalcy and made certain daily practices a way of life. We collectively agree with many of the “new” directives: wash your hands, stay inside, exercise social distancing. But as we work through this viral crisis, there are a few items throughout our culture that we’ll never look at quite the same again, namely hand sanitizer, toilet paper and — masks.
As the beginning of the outbreak took hold, we saw a small population proudly sporting masks on social media while travelling. Almost overnight, masks of all types became difficult to find — even for those who needed them for their occupation.
Just take a scroll through your social media pages and you’ll see posts sharing information about how to make a mask, where to get supplies and even groups dusting off their sewing machines (and their sewing skills) to help supply masks for hospitals and first responders. Even national and local sewing businesses are getting involved. Simultaneously, a simple Google search of “masks + DIY” brings up hundreds of tutorials, videos and Etsy sellers with handmade masks.
Most recently, Project Runway alums Valerie Mayen and designer Christian Siriano have joined the movement by working with their teams to produce masks to answer the call. Not far behind, fashion houses such as Gucci, Prada, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent are also preparing to manufacture masks, and the list continues to grow.
As crafty Americans began to join in the mask-making movement, the controversy began. For every post about the importance of wearing masks, there are those that dispute the use of cloth masks. Like it or not, the masks are here.
As the mask manic grew, so did the questions:
-Does EVERYONE need a mask??
– Can these masks prevent you from getting the virus?
– Can the handmade masks help to control the spread of the virus?
Personally, I was conflicted and didn’t wear a mask, but considered wearing one only during air travel. I also didn’t think differently of those who chose to wear a mask. It took a few calls from family members and clients to change my thinking. With all the activity surrounding wearing masks, I decided to dig a little deeper into the psyche around today’s latest accessory.
In the past, experts questioned homemade cloth masks as a defense against viruses like the flu. Now, those experts are urging medical professionals who only have access to limited protective equipment to use homemade cloth masks if they have absolutely no other option. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that health care providers with no other option use a bandana or scarf when treating patients with COVID-19. However, this should ideally be paired with a face shield, and even then, the impact on disease reduction is unknown.
So what about those who chose to wear a mask as they go about daily activities? What about those who have devoted hours to making and donating masks? Researchers have identified a series of psychological changes that occur when we wear certain clothing, colors, and in this case, accessories. Science says that what we wear affects our behavior, attitudes, personality, mood, confidence and even the way we interact with others. This concept is known as “Enclothed Cognition.”
As masks become more acceptable in our modern times, expect to see more notables stepping into the spotlight wearing masks. Zuzana Čaputová, president of Slovakia, recently attended a swearing-in ceremony in a head-to-toe color-coordinated look — face mask included. Without missing a beat, the masked look was highlighted in the news in the same manner as the latest trend straight off the runway. This is only the beginning.
We can’t forget to mention the concept of enclothed cognition in relation to wearing masks. The COVID-19 virus and its effects are creating new challenges for all Americans, ones we have not experienced or will hopefully never experience again. Regardless of the outcome, this concept comes into play when discussing those who choose to wear masks. In this case, the wearer feels safe and in some type of control over this novel and uncertain situation.
The same feeling of unity, security and feeling of needing to DO SOMETHING can be attached to those who are investing their time into making cloth masks to donate to medical professionals. The huge numbers of those sewing masks is evidence of a creative coping mechanism while Americans are forced indoors for an unspecified amount of time.
Whatever is decided about wearing a mask or not wearing a mask during these times, the current state of the globe has changed so many things that we THOUGHT we knew. While wearing a mask is recommended mainly for medical professionals or for those with a compromised immune system, these masks make those who don’t fall in either of those categories feel safer and comforted during a time of upheaval.
Just as you pick the red tie over the black one, or decide to wear a long dress instead of a short one, these choices are all determined by how they make you FEEL. And at the end of the day, that’s what fashion is about. It makes us feel better.
Stay well and wash your hands.
About the writer: Dru Thompson is a fashion designer who owns and operates Dru Christine Fabrics and Design, a design studio located in Lake Affect Studios in the Superior Arts District. Through community involvement, Thompson has firmly established herself in the arts and fashion community as a writer, educator at the Cleveland School of the Arts, and mentor for aspiring entrepreneurs. To learn more about the design, visit druchristine.com, on Instragram @druchristine, Twitter @druchristine and Facebook Dru Christine Fabrics and Design.