Photo illustration by Slate
Phone, wallet, keys—and now, face mask. The most recent addition to our to-go checklist looks like it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, for us or for hamsters. Now that the CDC recommends all Americans cover their mouth and nose in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, pillars in the fashion industry like Christian Siriano and Louis Vuitton have retooled their operations to produce masks and gowns for frontline workers, while other designers are marketing to consumers instead.
Where there were few stylish choices for the masses just a few months ago, there are now so many fashion masks that a highly scientific ranking is in order. We based ours on a careful formula that factors in aesthetic, breathability, creativity, and ear-loopiness. Bonus points are awarded if the creator is offering a “buy one, give one” scheme to benefit essential workers or donating part of the proceeds to charity.
OK, Disney is not technically a fashion house, but they do own, like, everything, and I consider that a good reason to put them on this list. Their market dominance is still not enough to earn them anything but last in show for their pack of Star Wars masks. The only mask of the bunch worth buying, the one with Baby Yoda sipping soup, is unfortunately designed so that he looks like green ALF, snout and all. Baby Yoda deserves better and so do you.
Clothmyths is not exactly haute couture, but after seeing an ad for this mask-bandanna-balaclava thing, I simply had to include it. While I give whatever this is points for having the same print as every single item sold at the mall kiosks of my youth, it loses ten times as many points for combining the sweaty-necked inconvenience of a scarf you wear because you forgot to bring your mask to the grocery store with the loops of regular masks that hurt your ears after a few minutes.
At first glance, the face mask made by Kim Kardashian West’s shapewear company Skims (neé Kimono) looks entirely innocuous. There’s not a whole lot going on here, nor is there much to find fault with, and the company is donating 10,000 masks to charities. All fine and dandy. However, the rollout of these masks earns them a spot below their mediocre but serviceable compatriots: In her initial tweet announcing the launch of the masks, Kardashian West stated that they were available in shades of nude—except that the shade of nude available for the darker-skinned model is jet black. So close, Kim. So close.
Madewell and Reformation’s masks belong in the same “aggressively fine” category. Both these stores made sure to advertise the fact that since their masks are made from leftover fabric scraps, there’s no knowing which pattern you might receive. While this fashion gamble is marketed as a fun, limited-edition, one-of-a-kind feature, I’m deducting points for lack of consistency.
Lilly Pulitzer/Vera Bradley
Next up is another tie. Lilly Pulitzer and Vera Bradley’s chipper prints both remind me of going to high school in the suburbs of Dallas so, due to unpleasant memories, I can’t rank them too highly. Nor, to be frank, can I really distinguish between the two brands, though Vera Bradley’s comes with a nifty activated carbon filter that filters out everything from pollen to pollution, which is an asset to me and anyone else who suffers from seasonal allergies. They’re also both currently sold out of all their masks, so clearly, they’re doing something right.
Now we’re getting into the fun ones. Lingerie brand Cosabella is selling a mask that, at first glance, seems like a leftover strip from a pair of very nice Italian lace underwear. However, because lace doesn’t actually provide much protection from anything, it is double lined, which means it is probably very hot and likely to get damp from breath condensation. This is a mask made for aesthetics, not for activity.
More lace! And sequins! And whimsical impracticality! Bridal designer Katie May’s lace mask, which looks like a single bra cup affixed to your face, renders the wearer a cross between a dominatrix and a very fancy Bane from The Dark Knight Rises. It not only gets points for bringing a level of class to the wearer’s villainy, but for having head straps so that buyers don’t have to fiddle with irritating ear loops. Even better, a portion of the proceeds go to No Kid Hungry. Points are deducted for being double-lined and thus having the same sweaty problem as Cosabella’s.
Lirika Matoshi’s face masks look like they’re made from the scraps of flower girl gowns, and I love it. Because it would be physically impossible not to smile at someone coming toward you wearing a mask with tiny sequin strawberries, this mask gets extra points for not only benefiting the wearer but society at large.
This mask is a work of art. It is also $80. I’m sure hand-embroidery takes a lot of time and skill, and Roopa Pemmaraju works with artisans in Bangalore, India and pays them “above average wages.” Still, paying $80 for a mask reminds me of how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said coronavirus is the great equalizer when it in fact is only throwing our deep societal inequities into sharper relief. Also, it seems like it would be difficult to breathe through. Still, if you’re going to spend $80 on a mask, let it be this beautiful one.
I love this utterly ridiculous fashion mask from Collina Strada with all my heart, not least because for every one of these $100 masks Collina Strada sells, they provide five to healthcare workers in New York. The fashion brand is also giving out masks for free to those who are sick who reach out to them directly. But back to the mask itself. From its giant floppy bows to patterns so loud they might as well be screaming to the fact that there’s an opening to add a filter to it, this design more than earns its number one spot.