While wearing facemasks in the past (“B.C.”: before COVID-19) was a common sight mainly in Far East counties, when the coronavirus heavily hit the West, it became clear this was about to change.
Online searches for face masks began to increase. Given that there was a shortage of masks for frontline health workers, it was more difficult for the general public to buy them. Amazon was limiting medical mask sales to hospitals. Hardware store shelves have been cleaned out quickly and people started seeing the face masks as a fashion item.
There are plenty of mask patterns floating around out there for the DIY crowd, but they require fabric and sewing supplies. Also, experts say bandanas are among the least-effective types of face covering.
That’s why some people have turned to fashion and streetwear as a source for buying those fashionable customized face masks.
For years, streetwear brands like Bape and Off-White have made ornamental face masks. Even a few months ago, a hypebeast could buy a Bape camo mask-cap on the brand’s site, or a selection of simple Off-White masks covered in Virgil Abloh’s signature diagonal stripes on SSENSE.
As mentioned, these masks have mostly been popular in Asian streetwear markets, a signature of street style flicks and Instagram-fit pictures from Bangkok to Tokyo. Now, a more global market appears to be forming. Websites like Grailed have dozens of listings for new face masks by Bape, Off-White, Heron Preston, and Anti-Social Social Club, all of which were out of stock on the brands’ respective e-commerce sites. In addition, dozens of mask creations by Grailed’s small but prolific DIY community appear to have hit the site. One user, who generally deals in vintage Versace and Fendi goods, sells several custom masks made using castoff designer fabrics—like bootleg versions of Billie Eilish’s Gucci mask.
According to the site, daily search volume for face masks has doubled, with a particular spike on March 12, the day the NBA suspended its season and Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive for the virus. Streetwear marketplace StockX has sold hundreds of face masks, according to data listed on the site.
It should be noted these are not medical-grade gear; experts caution nonmedical face masks should not embolden wearers to ignore social distancing, and that they could lead to a false sense of security. But a Cambridge study from 2013 showed cotton masks can “significantly reduce” viral spread. The study found surgical masks are three times as effective as cotton
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