Face masks: The new fashion of 2020

Photo Illustration by Shannon Swain

Face masks are the biggest fashion trend of 2020 due to COVID-19. The pandemic changed the way United States citizens live their lives, how essential workers go to their jobs and how students keep up with their studies. Yet, in the middle of all the fear and turmoil of 2020, COVID-19 has demonstrated the resilience of the U.S. 

In a feat of adaptability, masks have become an opportunity of expression, a fashion statement and a staple for every outfit.

As masks become hot merchandise in nearly every storefront across the U.S., local Flagstaff business owners are responding to the call.

The downtown shop Rainbow’s End has added creative, fashionable masks to its shelves. Owner Miranda Sweet started carrying double-plied, fashionable masks as soon as COVID-19 became a media concern. 

“I found local designers pretty early on to help me with it,” Sweet said.  “People are coming in looking for something a little different. As long as they are safe, keeping up with trends will help people want to wear them. Masks are basically a fashion statement now.” 

Sweet’s shop is full of trendy and colorful clothing, jewelry and now, masks. The wall behind the counter is decorated with an abundance of colorful face coverings. Some of the options available include a white mask with bright yellow lemons, a black mask with white skulls and a burgundy mask with white feathers. She also offers orange, green and purple masks, and a multi-patterned mask that reads “Girl Power.” 

Many students on campus and in Flagstaff can be seen wearing the free NAU mask — a nondescript navy blue mask with the NAU logo in the top left corner. These masks that identify students with the NAU community have become very common throughout the university, but they are not the only masks decorating the faces of students. 

Among the bright colors and fashionable patterns of the hottest new clothing item, the occasional political mask can be spotted. Masks that read “VOTE” in large bright letters have appeared around campus. Masks that express identity, such as LGBTQ+ pride masks and masks that support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement have become examples of advocacy through fashion. 

An article on Pride.com highlights LGBTQ+ face masks, which features the “Gaypin’ Hanky.” The article describes the Gaypin’ Hankies as “a ‘fresh twist’ on the hanky code, a retro system from cruising culture in which queer people would wear different colors of handkerchiefs or bandanas to indicate their sexual preferences.” 

The hankies come in about 10 colors, ranging from black and light pink to hunter green.

Similarly, the BLM Facebook page encouraged advocacy and safety in a post advertising the new masks. 

Whether it be BLM, LGBTQ+ pride or NAU community masks or the colorful designs from local Flagstaff shops, NAU students use protective gear to represent individuality.

Vice Mayor Adam Shimoni, a judge of the Flagstaff  Arts Council’s Please Stay, Play Distance & Mask Responsibly Art Contest,said self-expression during the pandemic is critical to mental health and well-being.

“We should always be expressing ourselves creatively, regardless of what we’re going through in life,” Shimoni said. “We should never oppress our own inner artist and inner self. The more you can empower your inner self, the better off you’re going to be as an individual.”

The winners of the contest created art featuring face masks and reflecting the precautions and precedents during the time of COVID-19.

Kathy Bryant, retired board member of the Flagstaff Arts Council and judge of the contest, said the art contest was intended to increase awareness about public health and teach about compassion.

“[The contest] is inspired by the pandemic, the whole idea of wearing a mask, respect for others and compassion,” Bryant said. 

Bryant said she sees the competition as an opportunity to comfort people and promote patience, hope and empathy to encourage safety and creativity. She also said she thinks it’s absurd that wearing a mask has been politicized because it’s a public health issue. 

Bryant encouraged students to maintain their creativity and to never let COVID-19 stifle individuality. 

“The most important thing I can tell students is: don’t be cynical,” Bryant said. “Students are the most positive and hopeful people around — optimistic and enthusiastic — that’s what you want to see in everybody, but especially young people."

Shimoni asked students to maintain their creativity and keep Flagstaff’s diverse community in mind as COVID-19 cases rise in Flagstaff. He said the community has people who are vulnerable to COVID-19, and if the wrong people get the virus, it could become a life-or-death situation. 

“Keep the vulnerable populations in mind, keep the tribal communities to our north in mind, and keep the larger community in mind,” Shimoni said. “What happens to NAU, happens to Flagstaff.”

Face masks can be political, expressive, fashionable and fun. Most importantly, they are protective measures to promote the health of the community. From the colorful masks in Rainbow’s End to the BLM advocacy face coverings, masks are keeping Flagstaff lively in more ways than one.