The mask in all its very many forms has joined forces in 2017 to create a very big statement that is starting to cross over into fashion in a major way. Long before the advent of Future’s hit single “Mask Off“and the mask off challenges it spawned, the obscuring of one’s face has been bubbling up as trend on multiple continents, as inspired by a wish to protect, honor and in some cases make a provocative fashion statement. And now, in an era when there are cameras everywhere and people are literally dying for attention, masks have become meaningful as a push back for those seeking to reclaim some element of privacy.
While now widely popular globally, the humble surgical face mask first arose as a trend in Japan where it was used to prevent the spread of germs and also protect against allergens. It’s evolved into a youthful fashion statement, one that received a big endorsement from K-Pop groups like 2NE1, has shown up on Chinese runways and this year was on the receiving end of a shout out from Snapchat through a cheetah face mask filter.
Beijing-based designer Zhijun Wang has gained some fame for creating surgical mask composed of a variety of unusual material stories, including parts of highly-coveted sneakers. He also jumped in on the Frakta bag challenge, creating a blue plastic surgical mask.
From a more traditional perspective, in a world in which diversity among European and North American populations is growing, there’s been a growing embrace of the hijab and veils worn by Muslim women, a movement propelled to the forefront of fashion by global-minded brands like Dolce & Gabbana who launched a hijab and abaya collection in January 2016, as well as Vogue, which rolled out Vogue Arabia earlier this year with a (controversial) cover featuring Gigi Hadid wearing a face mask.
More recently, the election of an unpopular president who is viewed by many as attempting to roll back the clock for minorities has given birth to resistance groups, whose most extreme members believe in physical retaliation (case in point, the Richard Spencer puncher) and cover themselves in masks to hide their identities during protests. As well, the advent of the technology has translated to the disappearance of privacy, fostering an environment in which one is inclined to push back through face coverage even if it’s a protest that ultimately is symbolic.
Of course, performers love the dramatic statement masks makes and ever since Kanye West wore a Masion Martin Margiela mask during his Yeezus tour, the look has become more prevalent among hip hop and r&b singers.
More recently, brands are capitalizing on the trend, creating masks to be worn both as a fashion statement and also for functional reasons. Nike’s ACG’s 3-in-1 cap sold out upon arrival. Originally priced at $60, it’s now selling on Ebay with a starting price of $190. For the current season, trend-leading Los Angles-based Vida Kush is offering a full range of masks, inspired by both surgical and bandanna silhouettes.
Given the amount of energy behind this trend and the fact that it’s coming from all corners of the globe, you can bet it will be showing up with a lot more frequency in the coming months.