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Mask – from necessity to fashion accessory

By Rinku Patnaik, Chief Client Officer, Ipsos India; Madhurima Bhatia, Content & Media Relations Lead, Ipsos India

The SARS CoV-2 which hit a few cities initially in China, spread like wildfire across continents, and then the WHO proclaimed it a pandemic!

While the world got into a tizzy, several Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were announced to grapple with the contagion: washing of hands, frequent sanitizing, social distancing and of course wearing a mask!

In March when the pandemic was still in its infancy, masks were in short supply. We also were told that masks should be left for the essential workers and the frontline warriors while people went on a frenzy looking for masks. There were largely the medical masks which were the disposable/ single use ones and the N95 with respirators. While the country was still in a lockdown, most of us managed without one, as we were within the four walls of our homes. And those that stepped out once in a couple of weeks, also resorted to hand stitched ones made by the mom with the help of YouTube tutorials. 

Mask the warrior cum accessory!

But we have come a long way with our engagement with the mask, soon after it was established, the resilient novel corona virus spreads via nose and mouth. Consequently, masks became the sure shot protective gear for one and all, to offset the contraction of the virus! And then the revolution happened!  

We saw cotton masks flooding the market – non branded, priced at 30-40 bucks, 2-layered were ideal and yes, they could be washed and re-used; the material let you breathe – being the fabric best suited for tropical climes.

Mask forays as accessory across apparel brands – well entrenched players, ethnic boutique brands, states and their specialty fabric and fakes! 

Masks were mandatory for all as there was a huge spike in infections, across India. One would never step out of the house without a mask as you would want to keep the virus at bay. The masks have evolved from a medical mask to a double layered cotton one to a sequin or satin mask for more formal occasions, or the toothy grin of a skull mask for casual affairs. 

Some of the broad mask trends that we got to observe so far have been on:

  • Mask in the same palette with the attire. You have men’s apparel brands replacing the pocket square with a matching mask with the shirt.
  • Safe choice - Neutral colours like black, white or beige to go with any outfit.
  • The exact same print as the top/ kurta which is an extension of the dress.     
  • Then made the entry of designer masks, with the high-end designers that also designed masks for party and wedding wear, which are embroidered on silk with sequins, pearls etc.    
  • To appeal to the handloom lovers, you had the mask made of kalamkari, Assam weaves and madhubani painting.  
  • The market is flooded with mask knockoffs which are widely being flaunted given the low cost that help makes a statement, as they come with logos of some of the most desirable brands.

Masks have emerged as the biggest opportunity for marketers to capitalize on! Urban apparel brands of Van Heusen, Allen Solly, United Colors of Benetton; ethnic clothing players of Fab India, Anokhi; state specialty exhibitors to adventure sports gear company, Wildcraft have all jumped onto the bandwagon.

Improvisations of masks

We have also seen some bit of improvisations in face covering. Handkerchiefs doubling up as masks; scarves being used as masks (Model and actress, Amber Heard did some colour blocking with her shocking pink scarf cum face covering and made a statement; flaunting it over her all black outfit). The petrol station guy did a similar spin with his hanky. It is a common sighting here, for men to wear hankies like that.

We are also seeing bandanas being extensively doubling up as masks! And then the DIY kinds, which people are making at home, from their old t-shirts (the material is soft and practical). Village belles are even using the dupatta and sari to cover their faces.

Single use Vs Re-usable – single use masks pose a health hazard if carelessly thrown and hence more awareness needs to be built around how they are disposed, wrapped in paper etc. And Re-usable masks need to be washed and cleaned for hygiene.    

Future of masks

Once COVID 19 bottoms out, we might see the mask too go off or maybe not, as with air quality (AQ) and pollution levels deteriorating, people may keep it on.

Call them a fad or an essential, right now masks are an accessory and intrinsic part of daily wear! 

L-R: Rinku Patnaik; Madhurima Bhatia
L-R: Rinku Patnaik; Madhurima Bhatia

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