Fashion forward: the past, present and future of masks


Eric Henry

A man in Wicker Park sporting a mask while riding a divvy bike.

What was the most worn fashion item of 2020? Chain necklaces? Oversized sweaters? Mini bags?

Try face masks. As sign-of-the-times as it might seem, face masks were the one item that everyone wore. No matter your style, a face covering was the last step in completing your outfit before going outside. Face masks were the most worn fashion item of 2020, and it doesn’t look like they are going away any time soon.

Before 2020, face masks were a symbol for hospitals, medical professionals and public health. One year later into the Covid-19 pandemic, face masks have become ubiquitous with everyday life. Mask-wearing is a matter of public health. Everyone, not just medical professionals, must now cover their faces to prevent Covid-19 spread.

As they have become an essential accessory, face masks have transcended the standard blue and white surgical masks of before. Whether they are hand-sewn or store-bought, masks have diversified to be as unique as the people wearing them. 

“I’m really enjoying how a lot of creatives have adapted to the changing times of mask mandates and have been experimenting with prints and designs,” said DePaul senior Anastasia Kois.

With the unlimited number of patterns and messages one can display, masks are tools for self-expression. Mask-wearers are taking advantage of the garment by using it to showcase their support for different people and groups and becoming walking billboards for LGBTQ+ pride, Black Lives Matter, or their favorite entertainers.

Even though 2020 (going on 2021) may be the year of the mask for some, it is important to note that masks did not just pop up out of the blue. Face masks have had their place in fashion for a while. Well before 2020, they were being used for not only health purposes but in streetwear overseas, specifically in Asia.

“Years before the pandemic happened, it was a trend to wear masks in the airport and even when you were going out. It was extremely common to wear masks if you were at the airport traveling to concerts” said DePaul junior Kyra Buenaventura, referring to K-pop fashion trends.

While it may not be as exciting as K-pop, face masks’ arrival in America has given birth to some entertaining pop culture moments such as Lana Del-Rey’s netted gaffe, Lady Gaga’s electronic VMAs performance and The Weeknd’s Super Bowl visual commentary. The power these mask-centered moments hold indicates that mask-wearing could be here to stay.

When asked whether mask-wearing will persist in a post-pandemic world, Quillan Townsend, a member of the DePaul Fashion Society had this to say: “I think that certainly in the near future mask-wearing will remain common. I think that it will even remain much more common in the United States than it was prior to the pandemic.”