Fashionable face coverings: Albertans choosing masks to match their wardrobes

As masks and face coverings become more commonplace, some Albertans are looking for ways to stand out in the crowd.

Mask designs can express individuality, expert says

Theatre Garage owner Christy Hutchinson holds up a freshly made checker patterned face mask. Hutchinson said her company offers a variety of styles and designs for face masks. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

As masks and face coverings become more commonplace, some Albertans are looking for ways to stand out in the crowd.

While N-95 respirators still offer the best protection, non-medical masks are often preferred by the public due to their comfort, reusability and in some cases — fashionable design.

Brands like Adidas, Anthropologie, Rag & Bone, Fashion Nova and many others now list reusable masks for sale online as accessories, and masks are being featured in fashion shows and magazines around the world.

In Alberta, masks are now required in public indoor settings in many cities, including Edmonton and Calgary, and will be mandatory for Alberta school staff and students from Grades 4 to 12 when school resumes next month.

Though masks serve a function to help stop the spread of coronavirus, experts say some are just as concerned with how masks might fit into a wardrobe.

"It's a sign that people have rationalized the use of masks and that beyond the rational use of it, it becomes a fashionable item that may convey to people who an individual is," said Anne Bissonnette, associate professor in material culture and curatorship at the University of Alberta. 

With masks mandatory in Edmonton and in all schools in Alberta, many are looking at ways of standing out. Radio Active’s Kashmala Fida is here with some of the hottest mask trends and who is wearing what. 7:25

Bissonnette said it's not uncommon for clothing or accessories to become fashionable beyond their utilitarian purpose. While many people choose headphones for sound quality or fit, others choose them for the design or how it matches an outfit.

Fashionable and well-designed masks can also make them more popular to wear.

"They might not love wearing a mask, but they might love it a little more if this mask is something that they find esthetically pleasing," she said.

Designs in demand

Edmonton brand LUXX Ready To Wear starting making masks in March, and are calling them cough guards.  

Derek Jagodzinsky, fashion designer and owner of LUXX, said the mask market is starting to get saturated as more companies offer fashionable designs, but that doesn't mean the demand will go away any time soon.

​​"I think it might get busier because it's in our fashion wardrobe now because of legislation."

Christy Hutchinson, owner of Theatre Garage, said the demand for masks has helped keep her company running during the pandemic. 

"We're pumping out a lot of masks and trying to do our best to keep our head above water," she said.

She said her company was already making masks before the pandemic.

"A lot of our customer base are anime fans, so we were making the masks and painting characters on them and different things like that, for people to wear for fashion purposes," she said. "The good thing is, is we just put that into overhaul and starting manufacturing masks really quickly in March."

Theatre Garage offers masks for all ages in a variety of styles and fits. Hutchison said although fashion is popular, most of her customers are interested in fit and comfort. 

Back to school fashion

Although the province has ordered 1.7 million masks for students as they return to in-person classes this fall, some students are looking for designs that aren't made by Old Navy or IFR Workwear.

Maria Miles said her three children all have different desires when it comes to mask fashion.

Sierra Miles, 10, likes masks will silly and fun designs or animal faces. (Submitted by Maria Miles)

Her 13-year-old son Devin is into sports and wants one that is a simple, single colour design.

"For him, it's being able to breathe while he's being physically active," said Miles.

Miles said Devin is especially interested in getting an Adidas or an Oilers mask.

However, her two daughters, aged 10 and 15, are looking for masks that coordinate with their outfit or stand out in the crowd. Sierra, 10, in particular, likes masks with silly faces or animals.

Miles herself estimates she has about 10 masks that coordinate with her outfits. She thinks as masks become more common, other people will be purchasing them for fashion purposes. 

"It's just a little extension of our personalities and kind of to lighten the mood," Miles said.

Devin Miles, 13, likes a simple, one-colour mask design. (Submitted by Maria Miles)

With files from Kashmala Fida and Nathan Gross


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