It was once the look for bandits, ninjas and dentists.
Now it’s gone viral.
What’s up with that?
Face masks are part of the COVID dress code. A mask for every outfit, and for making a fashion statement. It’s also the law inside Costco, the city of Langley on South Whidbey and sections of the White House.
Facewear has become the new T-shirt, with logos, slogans, humor and bling: Seahawks, Disney, Walking Dead and Bigfoot. Trump, Biden and Gumby for president. Blah-blah-blah (fittingly, I have that one).
Cloth masks and N95 respirators both slow the spread of COVID-19 to different degrees. N95 and surgical masks help protect frontline workers exposed to the virus. These are often a clinical blue color. No prints of zombies or Elsa from “Frozen.” Fabric masks absorb your droplets to protect others from you — many carriers are asymptomatic — but don’t shield you from infection.
“If we’re forced to wear one, we might as well wear them with some flavor,” said Michael Carter, an Everett automatic door installer.
His mask collection includes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Darth Vader. Using a kit, he printed a “First Amendment, but watch what you say” mask.
“It shows individuality,” Carter said.
Some people don’t wear a mask to make a statement, or argue that it buys into a threat they believe is overblown or violates their freedom.
None of the customers wore masks at Stag Barber & Styling in Snohomish the day I was there last week. The shop opened in defiance of Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order, which barber Bob Martin and some of his customers called “a scam.”
As of Friday, 1,245 people in Washington state have died from the virus that has killed 120,000 nationwide. Approximately 2.25 million Americans have been infected.
In early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended everyone wear a mask in public, but few places mandate it.
Until Monday’s directive requiring staffers to wear masks, facewear was out of fashion in the West Wing, where the nation’s leaders cluster in the Oval Office without proper social distancing.
The president goes unmasked. Vice President Mike Pence was without one while meeting doctors and patients at the Mayo Clinic, but he’s going to have to mask up if he wants to score a deal on Kirkland toilet paper or visit Langley.
To shop at Costco, you must wear a face covering, Mr. Vice President, or you’re not getting past the door guard.
To frolic in the breezy village of Langley on Whidbey Island requires a mask. Langley issued a proclamation in May requiring people wear masks everywhere in the business district, beaches included.
“If you don’t want to follow the order, don’t come into the downtown,” Langley Mayor Tim Callison said.
Over the touristy Mother’s Day weekend, about half of those frolicking were not wearing masks.
“There is no fine or penalty,” Callison said. Police are giving away disposable masks, not tickets.
The mayor said the city’s order was triggered by people from off-island congregating and not social distancing.
“The town has a low rate of only six cases and no deaths out of 4,000 in our ZIP code,” he said. “We’re an elderly population. We are right smack in a risk category.”
The average age is 58.
The town’s Star Store already had required shoppers to wear a face covering. The stuffed gorilla at the entrance has a mask and a “No excuse” button.
Many people find wearing a mask is uncomfortable. It takes getting used to, like thong underwear, which has been worn upside-down as a mask on social media, where anything seems possible. No-sew masks made from bandanas and bra cups might be better options.
Handmade masks on Etsy go for $10-$15. At the 7-Eleven, $2.99 buys a stretchy blue cammo mask. Banana Republic, Old Navy and New Republic have all gotten into the mask biz.
BobaKhan Toys, an emporium of pop culture items in Everett, is where Mary Katherine Hibbard stocks up on masks. She has Star Trek, Pokémon and My Little Pony. One is flannel.
“It is cool to be able to show people what your style is using your mask,” she said.
Hibbard is in school to be a funeral director, and recently decided to expand her studies. “After all this COVID came I decided I am going to be a medical assistant to see if I can help out,” she said.
BobaKhan posts photos of available masks, made by two local seamstresses, including a retired police officer. About the only thing not available is Baby Yoda.
You have to go to Disney for that. Better hurry. The Shopdisney site is taking pre-orders for Baby Yoda masks.
• Andrea Brown can be reached at 425-339-3443 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org