Are face masks the newest way to make a fashion statement? Here are some unique takes – USA TODAY

“If you’re reading this, you’re too close.”

That’s the phrase printed in white script on a stark black mask from CassysTopShop on Etsy, an online store for craft sellers. It goes for $11.99.

Images of toilet paper speckle a $24.99 mask from OriginalSandClothing on the same site. Another declares “Sweet Sixteen & Quarantine.”

License plates that say “JSY GRL” are scattered on the $10, bestselling mask on Laura Warne of Dumont’s Etsy page called CreatureComfortsNYC.

“If you have to wear a mask, it might as well be in a cute pattern,” said Warne, who has been running her Etsy shop since 2007. “It might as well make you smile when you see it.”

Masks have officially entered the fashion scene. This essential accessory has become a way for people to exhibit their fashion sense, interests and – in some cases – sense of humor in a time when most people are bypassing their designer digs for sweatpants.

In many states, it is now required to wear a face covering in essential businesses to aid in staunching the spread of coronavirus.

Masks in high fashion

“Everyone wants to seem unique – and everyone is unique,” said Sharon Kornstein, founder of the fashion consulting business ImageDesign in Verona, New Jersey. “As we’re going around in our workout clothes and sweatpants, the mask you wear can show a little personality.”

Fashion brands such as Christian Siriano, Prada, Gucci, Lilly Pulitzer, Fendi and Vera Bradley have begun making functional – not fashionable – masks for healthcare workers. Louis Vuitton’s famed French headquarters is now full of expert tailors making snow-white masks and hospital gowns for donation to Parisian hospitals.

More: Fashion companies from Dior to Nordstrom mobilize to make masks and gowns

Fashion designer Cynthia Rowley is also making masks for donation. On Instagram, the designer has shown off her personal stylish face coverings. One photo shows Rowley donning a mask with black and white vertical stripes that match her sweater. Another is of her daughter, Kit Keenan, in a feminine floral mask, paired with high-waisted jeans and a high-necked black top with ruffle sleeves.

Fashion consultant Kornstein, who has an order for masks printed with an African pattern on them en route to her home, predicts masks may even make their way onto runways.

“I think we’ll see masks on the runway, especially connected to headpieces and head coverings,” she said.

So does Amy Wilson, a Jersey City, New Jersey, artist and a teacher at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She got the idea to start making fashionable masks after seeing photos of Japanese women wearing white masks with their high fashion outfits.

“I wear black all the time, so I don’t want to walk around in a surgical white mask,” Wilson said. “I definitely wanted to make something more unusual and different.” Wilson made herself a charcoal gray mask with a bee print and another with leopard print.

Indeed, in many Asian countries, wearing facemasks has been the norm for years as a basic, every-day precautionary measure. Most of the mask patterns Americans are using now originated in Asia, said Wilson.

She began making masks a couple of weeks before the COVID-19 outbreak became dire. She rifled through patterns at her local fabric shop – which is now temporarily closed – to find unique pieces. She even considered getting studs, rhinestones and trimmings to add on.

“I’m waiting for masks to get really crazy, with beads and feathers and crazy stuff,” said Wilson. “Wearing fun masks is a way to reclaim some power right now.”

Commercial masks

If high-fashion patterns aren’t your thing, how about a mask with your favorite football team logo on it? The NFL has released a line of masks for fans ($24.99 for a three-pack). Or masks spotted with Mickey Mouse heads? Disney has those on the way ($19.99 for a four-pack). Or maybe something to show off your activism? The Human Rights Campaign, which supports LGBT rights, created its own rainbow masks (sent for free with any donation above $29).

Brian Horn of Toms River, New Jersey, owns the Etsy shop OriginalSandClothing. He typically sells T-shirts from his shop but started selling masks in late March. They feature images of octopi, sugar skulls, camo and dog noses. He used to sell about 50 T-shirts a week. Now, he’s selling about 700 masks in the same amount of time.

He’s hardly alone.

“I watched the search results for ‘masks’ go up on Etsy from 14 pages of results, to 60, then 80, then 250,” Horn said.

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Warne of CreatureComfortsNYC was used to selling greeting cards on her Etsy page.

“Making masks is never something I imagined myself doing,” she said. But, when friends and customers saw the masks she was donating to first responders, and asked to buy some from her, she decided to start selling them. Some of her creations include masks with watermelons, beer pong, pink pawprints and a child’s mask with The Very Hungry Caterpillar on it.

“It’s just finding a little bit of joy in this situation. None of us really want to wear masks,” Warne said.

Warne makes hundreds a week and can hardly keep up with her orders. She wears the imperfect masks not fit for selling. “For a while, I was wearing a mask with cats on it,” she said. “I don’t even have a cat!”

The ethics

Among Etsy sellers and fashionistas, there’s no discomfort in putting a little pizzazz on necessary medical gear.

“As long as you’re not taking it away from people who need it – not fighting for the N95s, I think you’re OK,” said Wilson. “If anything, it raises awareness and draws attention to people using safe practices. If rhinestones make you happy, go for it.”

And until government regulations loosen up and the general public feels safe to once again cough and sneeze freely in public, masks aren’t going away anytime soon.

“I think masks are going to be with us for a while. Once they’re not required by the government, I think people will still feel safer wearing them,” said Kornstein. “It’s going to be more of a normal thing. People might even have mask wardrobes, just because it’s something we’re going to get used to wearing.”

More: How to make your own face mask to help stop the spread of the coronavirus

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