Necessity to Accessory: Mahalia Munalem

Cloth mask, Doc mask, Red mask, Blue mask. Living in a post-pandemic world would be much simpler if we were in a Dr. Seuss book. Though that is not our reality, wearing a mask is. They serve as our shields: personal protection from the plague that has put most aspects of society on “pause”. But, we remember a world without masks right? When the pandemic is eventually over, will masks be just as obsolete as they were before? I think otherwise and my analysis of the adaptation of accessories from function to fashion will show you exactly why I believe that masks will be retained as an item of fashion in the years to come. 

Already, masks are becoming a fashion statement. Many clothing companies are capitalizing on the opportunity to brand the public with their logos, from Off-white to Louis Vuitton. Even independent creators on Etsy are repurposing materials from popular brands like Gucci and turning them into masks. If high-end fashion isn’t your thing, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials for if you want to support your favorite football team or match your mask color to your outfit. Masks have changed from a necessity into a fashionable accessory, and this is not the first time this has happened.

Before we look at examples of functional things becoming accessories, what exactly are accessories? Though it isn’t spelt the same way, I like to think of accessories in context of a word similar to it: “excess” as in extra or additional. Fashion accessories are additional items, secondary to the wearer’s outfit, that amplify and complement the look. Since they are secondary, accessories are loosely classified and aren’t really a piece of clothing in their own rights. With that being said, could it expand to encompass face masks?

Many times has fashion turned a necessity into an accessory. Take belts and jewelry for example. They both are worn around parts of our bodies, but function in different ways. A belt typically holds up the wearer’s pants, but what does jewelry hold up? Our social status? Beyond aesthetic or tradition, there is no true functionality or utility in wearing jewelry yet we do so for the sake of fashion. The same can be said for belts worn improperly. Back when sagging your pants was a trend, some individuals would still wear a belt so their bottoms didn’t fall entirely past their butt, but those belts were definitely not being completely useful. This is where fashion can sometimes overcome function. Did you ever know someone who wore glasses that didn’t have a prescription? Ever wear a snapback backwards and end up with sun in your eyes and a burnt forehead? How about buying a nice pair of Nikes or Adidas with no intent of using them for fitness and athletics? The loss-of-function effect of fashion accessories is an ever-present trend that could include face masks in the near future. 

In light of many accessories’ devolution into merely aesthetic detail, we should caution against this consequence for face masks, in particular in the midst of a global pandemic. A few months ago, the internet was raving over how beautiful these specific masks on Etsy were: the problem was that they were lace. The sheer fabric of black lace, though beautiful and breathable, would do anything but protect us against the spread of germs. Such an example of prioritizing fashionable appeal over functional advantages, perfectly demonstrates what face masks should not become in the realm of fashion. This, however, does not mean that there isn’t any room for masks to be fashionable or immortalized as accessories. Many East Asian countries had already adopted face masks as socially acceptable accessories prior to 2020. Because they are worn by the general public mostly as a courtesy if you have a cold, or because of air quality, wearing a face mask is as normal as wearing a belt or carrying a purse. Hopefully when quarantine protocols are over and the pandemic is behind us, it’ll be acceptable to wear a face mask to conceal my makeupless appearance, or simply because I want to coordinate it with whatever hat or bag I decide to accessorize with that day.