NEW DELHI : Vivan Sharma spent two days to put together the outfit he wanted to wear on 1 June. It was a special day, after all. He was returning to his workplace, a store in Delhi’s Hauz Khas, after spending almost two months in pyjamas at home, often wondering whether he would have the job once the nationwide lockdown was lifted. “I wanted to celebrate that I survived this period,” says Sharma, 25, who decided to buy clothes, especially a mask, which showed his happiness.
Once a medical necessity, masks have now become a symbol of identity and self-expression, especially among professional millennials. Sharma’s search for “happy” clothes ended at a Zodiac store, where he bought a shirt striped in rainbow colours with a matching mask. “No way was I going to wear a black mask. I wanted bright colours to cheer myself up and those looking at me.”
The mask is perhaps the most visible personal protective equipment in our arsenal against the coronavirus. When the world was still trying to make sense of the damage the virus could cause, homemakers and volunteers were sewing masks from old T-shirts or garment scraps and distributing them for free to the needy. Once it was made clear that we will have to cover our faces for more than a year, until a vaccine is developed, an unspoken realization set in: masks are part of our daily dress code.
Zodiac Clothing, a six-decade-old company most famous for its men shirts, introduced a line with matching masks, stitched keeping in mind the government guidelines, last month as “purely a marketing strategy”. “If a customer is taking the pain to come to our shop or online store, the least we can do is give them a mask,” says Salman Noorani, managing director, adding that they are witnessing a small, yet steady rise in sales. For prints without enough material to make matching masks, the brand is offering plain white ones at no extra. “They are necessity so we are doing our bit to safeguard our consumers. It doesn’t take much to make a mask anyway.”
For the privileged, masks are now also a fashion statement, a trend discreetly encouraged by designers and clothing brands. Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook are filled with posts from brands, big and small, selling printed cotton or silk masks with designs as varied as traditional Ajrakh and camouflage. Fashion label AM:PM is producing a range of masks as an extension of its spring-summer collection, priced between Rs4,000 and Rs5,000. “It’s a fashion statement, a functional requirement and the need of the hour,” says co-founder Priyanka Modi. “The pop of colours is for lifting people’s spirits.” Modi believes that there’s a market for designer masks. She plans to extend the range to “luxurious quilted” ones for winter, depending on the response.
Anu Shyamasunder of Bengaluru-based label House of Three started making masks after her friends said “masks will be a must for a long time”. The final push came when one of her regular customers requested her to custom make a matching mask with a dress. She’s had about four orders a week since starting the range last month. Her masks are made of cotton and linen, and cost Rs600-800 depending on the embellishments. The designer’s most recent creation was a silk mask to match a bride’s Kanjeevaram sari. “We are living in a scary, dull world. It seems these small, colourful things have become a way bring a smile to our face.”