24 June 2020

Masks and The New Normal

A selection of sewn masks alongside a disposable mask

Some Liberty print masks and filters

When did wearing face masks become a political issue instead of a public health issue? I find it curious that the two countries with some of the worst recorded fatalities from COVID-19 worldwide, America and Britain, are also the two counties where the wearing of masks (or face "coverings" as the British government would prefer them to be called) is such a contentious issue. To be clear I believe that the high number of deaths in both countries has to do with poor government response, however I do think that the widespread adoption of face masks would be helpful. It is a practical step that the vast majority of us can take in order to help reduce the spread of the virus. Obviously a small minority are unable to wear masks for health or age reasons, however I do believe that it is incumbent on those of us who are able to, to do so, so that we may help protect the most vulnerable in society. If wearing a mask reduces the risk of transmission by even a small percentage, then I think that it should be encouraged. Besides, if nothing else, they are useful in ensuring that you do not touch your face as often when you are outside because there is a physical barrier to your nose and mouth. 

I go for daily walks, and where I currently am in South London I am lucky to see one person out of every thirty wearing a face mask. Even on buses, where it is now ostensibly mandatory to wear a face covering of some kind, you still see a number of people without. I really do find this frustrating given the number of family friends who have passed away from the virus thus far. The government has said on many occasions that it will rely on "the common sense of the British public" rather than creating actual laws or enforcing guidelines. It does rather confirm my belief that nobody in government has ever met members of the public. I therefore believe that with everything opening up again we have to make sure that as individuals we are being responsible, because the government is clearly not helping as much as they could. But regardless of what a government does or does not do, life hopefully goes on for the majority, and so it is a matter of adjusting and making sure that we carry on in the healthiest way possible, both mentally and physically.

There has been a lot of talk of "the new normal", which I find an interesting phrase. To my mind each and every one of us has our own idea and experience of normal. Ideally we should seek to adjust to the present moment and to things as they are right now, rather than as we wish they were. People spoke at the beginning of quarantine season of their lives being "on hold", but the truth is that life goes on, the conditions simply change. You have to learn to adapt, and the quicker you are able to adapt, the easier it is for you in the long run mentally. It is the reason why children are more resilient than adults in certain instances, because they do not always have the life experience to compare a bad situation or event to and understand that it is out of the ordinary, so they accept it as it is and try to adapt accordingly. The quicker you are able to accept things as they are and figure out how to operate within those conditions, the easier it is to keep going. It is one of the reasons that I think that normalizing face masks is so important, because the sooner we come to realize that coronavirus is not going away anytime soon, the easier it becomes for us to adapt and carry on rather than having our lives on pause. 

I hope you do not think I am trivializing the issue, but I honestly believe that the sooner masks become just another clothing accessory that you throw on before you go out, the better it would be for us. I think that if it can become an everyday mundane behaviour to wear a mask in crowded places, or see people wearing masks when out and about, then the easier it becomes for us all to re-adjust to "the new normal". I am not saying that masks should be compulsory for everyone at all times, but rather than it would be nice to see wearing masks as a normalized behaviour, especially during Winter when cold and flu season arrives, because it would be useful for public health in general. It has been a common behaviour in Asia for years now to wear masks to prevent droplets from spreading when coughing or sneezing, and I think that is a really considerate societal attitude to have, because it does help protect those most at risk. I am actually looking beyond the current pandemic, however think that this a good opportunity to create a future where we have a plethora of mask options just as we do for glasses or gloves or shoes. 

You can already buy masks in a number of stores from supermarkets to clothing shops, and I am happy to see that there is choice available at different price points. Nobody should be priced out of owning a mask and I do think it is important for free masks to be offered in certain situations to ensure that everybody is able to wear one when required. I think we are still in the early days of mask production and mask wearing, and the market has a long way to go before reaching maturity. The higher the demand, the more choice there will be, the better the pattern cutting will get, which means the easier it will be to find masks that fit you well and that are functional. One of the innovations I am interested in is the idea of a transparent mask that does not fog up, which is useful for lip readers, but would also mean that we are able to see more facial expressions, making interactions easier with others. I think in particular that when sports brands get involved that we will see truly innovative design and features. Reebok have, for example, shared concept designs for transparent exercise masks that feature technology such as heart rate monitors and breathing sensors, which I think gives us a fascinating glimpse into a potential post-corona future. 

Once you have the ability to choose different fabrics, different patterns, different colours, and match your mask to your outfit, the sooner masks stop being something scary and daunting. Rather than a fearful prophylactic they become an optional accessory. Wearing a mask then becomes a normalized behaviour and a normal sight on the street. My hope is that it would allow for us to become a more considerate society, wherein we come to see wearing masks as a polite thing to do, especially during cold and flu seasons. Even when the pandemic is long gone and our memory of 2020 feels utterly surreal, I would like for wearing a mask not to be seen as unusual, but rather a socially responsible behaviour, particularly when feeling unwell. And, to be flippant for a moment - imagine all the new styling possibilities. 



  1. good point, i am one that sees life "on hold." And the more I think about it, that thinking made me lose years of my life. Of course these circumstances are much different. I live in one of the embarrassing states in the US, but most people wear masks.

  2. Making those mask. I have to have them at work. I have learned more about sewing. Hope you are well and staying strong. So great to read your wonderful words in fashion.